CULTURE & ARTS
11/28/2014 11:08 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

10 (More) Art Therapy Techniques To Help You De-Stress This Holiday Season

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The holidays are just around the corner which means family, food and, for many of us, stress on stress. Whether you're dreading those endless conversations with your great aunt Judith or getting anxious over the prospect of this year's New Year's resolutions, may we humbly suggest you let your creative side serve as a sort of internal massage.

Art therapy is a form of therapy predicated on the belief that artistic expression has the power to help us in healing, in self-esteem or simply in chilling out. It's unique in that most other forms of therapy rely on language as the foremost mode of communication, whereas art requires something different, something harder to define.

We're not art therapists, and the techniques below are only suggestions based on practices familiar to the art therapy community. But for those hungry for a creative outlet to relieve the tension that tends to build up this time of year, the practices below may help. They require few materials and no artistic background -- in fact, the less art you make, the better. The following suggestions are less about the final product, and more about the transformation that occurs along the way.

Behold, 10 art therapy techniques to help you relax this season.

1. Create a color collage

collage

Color has the ability to affect our moods. Sometimes, however, instead of using color to transform our current state of mind, it's helpful to take a moment to delve deep into the color you're currently experiencing. Feeling hot-tempered and uninhibited? Cut and paste orange images that fit your mood. Working within your current emotional state can help you make sense of why you're feeling the way you're feeling and realize that, perhaps, it's not such a bad place to be.

2. Make a power mask

diy mask

Most often we think of wearing a mask as a way to hide something about ourselves, but sometimes this layer of protection and anonymity makes us feel liberated and actually aids in expressing something true, difficult and real. Create a power mask, filled with symbols that make you feel strong (think of an actor's costume or athlete's helmet). You can put it on when preparing for a rough situation -- whether it's dinner with the extended family or giving a speech at work -- and prove to yourself you can accomplish the task at hand with or without the mask.

3. Construct a holiday "anti-calendar"

diy calendar

All too often calendars are jam-packed with chores, obligations and responsibilities, making the coming days a point of stress more than solace. Try making a DIY advent calendar, which we've dubbed an anti-calendar. Instead of giving yourself a chocolate each day, treat yourself to a compliment, a doodle, an inspiring quote or an encouraging mandate such as "eat breakfast in bed today." If all goes according to plan, you could find yourself bouncing out of bed each morning like a kid on Christmas.

4. Start a doodle chain

doodle

Fact: It's impossible for a doodle to look bad. Once you give in to the endless possibilities that occur when wiggly line meets unidentified shape, you'll find it dangerously hard to stop drawing. Start a doodle-centric take on exquisite corpse with a friend or loved one to loosen your attachment to your creation. It's pretty magical to watch your lone squiggle blossom into a spindly beast before your eyes. You can also try this with a pen-pal for a more productive spin on chain mail.

5. Draft a portrait of a past self

chil

We're not talking about past lives here, but versions of yourself you feel like you've either lost touch with or outgrown. Whether you're revisiting a phase of innocence, ignorance or just plain difference, using the space between memory and imagination as your subject helps illuminate how malleable your self really is. It feels almost like reading your old diary for the first time in years.

6. Build a wishing tree

yoko ono wish tree

Take a cue from her majesty Yoko Ono and build a physical object to hold your wildest dreams. Use either a real plant or a tree-like object you create yourself, write your wishes down on paper and hang them, one by one. You can invite others to do the same. Writing your hopes and dreams on paper brings you a small step closer to making them real. Not to mention, the little white papers resemble blossoming flowers from far away.

7. Paint your own personal set of Russian dolls

russian dolls

Though we're built a little differently -- mainly, not out of wood -- we too have different layers nestled inside us at all times. What is the self you portray to others? What about to your most trusted loved ones? What remains hidden underneath? You can either purchase a set of dolls and paint over them or paint atop a set of cardboard gift boxes or other stackable objects. Feel free to use images and words to recreate the layers you envision when you think of yourself.

8. Add on to a masterpiece

mona lisa moustache

Intimidated by a glaring sheet of blank paper? Yeah, us too. Instead of starting from scratch, try adding onto a canvas you already know and love to boost your confidence and lower the risk. Whether you're applying makeup to the Mona Lisa or filling in the blanks of a Paul Klee paintings with your own brand of alien creatures, we're sure the original artists would be honored by your tribute. Who knows? You could become a famed appropriation artist in the process.

9. Assemble a safe space

blanket fort

This is for the architects among us. Remember building a pillow fort as a kid? That cozy, secret space for you and only you? Take inspiration from the five-year-old inside and build yourself a grown-up fort -- ahem, an art installation. You can create a full-blown tent if you wish or simply arrange meaningful items in a closet or under the bed. Incorporate nostalgic objects, old toys or blankets, twinkly lights -- anything that makes you feel removed from the world around you. Put on a soothing song and let the good feelings wash over you.

10. Use crayons

crayon drawing

Yup, it's that simple. There's something about the crayon's blunt tip and uneven method of coloring that is at once frustrating and liberating. Yes, it's hard to draw a straight line. Yes, it's nearly impossible to color in a space without it looking patchy. But that's exactly the point. Allow your artistic imperfections to float to the surface and learn to cherish every human error in your creation. Whatever work you create will be distinctly yours, even if it's not quite museum-worthy.

For more suggestions, check out our earlier post "10 Easy Art Therapy Techniques To Help You De-Stress."

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Outside The Lines, A Coloring Book
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