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Mindfulness Art Therapy Can Reduce Depression and Anxiety

New research suggests doing art mindfully can reduce stress.

A new study published in The Journal of Korean Medical Science shows promising results that mindful art therapy can reduce depression and anxiety in people with heart disease. The study of 44 participants with coronary art disease found that practicing mindfulness through art over 12 weeks reduced levels of depression, stress, and anger. High levels of depression and anxiety can take a toll not just psychologically but physically as well.

Mindfulness-based art therapy blends principles of meditation with art therapy. The 12-week program offered 45-minute weekly sessions and integrated core attitudes and principles of mindfulness-based stress reduction:

1. Self-acceptance.

  • “Draw a complete picture of yourself” Express yourself as is without self-judgment to discover your image of yourself through drawing.
  • Mindful Eating Activity: a meditation and focused activity of eating example

2. Awaken the physical sensations (Part One). Body scan meditation: example.

3. Awaken the physical sensations (Part Two). Achieve self-awareness of sensory stimulation and response through mindfulness study of art materials using all five senses.

4. Hatha yoga. Use art to express emotions before and after hatha yoga, study your mind-body relations before and after.

5. Hatha yoga and Mandala: Draw or color mandalas (free examples online) and observe the physical sensations during drawing/coloring. Observe physical sensations during yoga postures.

6. Loving mind meditation practice Part One. Imagine taking care of yourself; then experience the mental, emotional and physical pain changing through drawing.

7. Loving mind meditation practice Part Two. Expressing a loving mind towards others through drawing.

8. Breathing practice. Draw before and after breathing practice without distraction. Notice differences in pictures before and after practice.

9. Realization sitting meditation. Create a collage to express the thoughts and feelings perceived during the sitting meditation. Notice thoughts and emotions during the activity.

10. Walking meditation. Combine walking meditation with drawing by reflecting during a walking meditation and then express happy and stressful events from the past week through drawing.

11. "Here, now Crazy walking" Paint your choice of color on the bottom of your feet and walk across paper on the ground. After five steps, change your direction and notice the present moment.

12. Beginner's mind. Review the program, and do the “Draw a complete picture of yourself” activity and evaluate your drawing.

Researchers found that mindful art therapy significantly reduced levels of depression, anxiety, aggression, and anger. Although the study was small in number of participants and focused specifically on people with heart disease, the research offers promising and creative methods to relieve stress, reduce depression, and better manage anxiety and anger. Many of the activities can be done at home on your own and are a simple, fun way to introduce mindfulness into your daily life.

More from Dr. Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D.
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