Nowadays, people are bombarded with constant stress and digital stimuli. Approaching deadlines from work, distracting emails that need a response, texts and DMs that call your immediate attention, and social media beckoning for your engagement. Sadly, all of these stressors serve as fuel for your inner critic to light a fire on your mental well-being. The inner critic uses all of these stress factors to feed your thoughts of failure, preventing you from doing all the things that would make you happy. That’s why it’s essential to have a tool to silence the inner critic and find your inner peace.
Enter Art Therapy Gratitude.
The Case of Improved Mood
During the WeRise LA Campaign for Mental Health Awareness Month, I organized a collaboration with The Future Is Art. The event was funded by the LA County Department of Mental Health and we partnered with the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to host the first-of-its-kind Gay Yoga in the Park + Art Therapy for Queer people of color between the ages of 18 and 29 (check out their next event on Eventbrite).
We introduced the topic of digital stimuli and work stressors while creating a safe space that empowered participants through Yoga and Art Therapy Gratitude. The end result? Each participant reported experiencing an overall sense of inner peace and mental wellbeing. When I reviewed the feedback from participants I was humbled to see that they experienced exactly the results that our event partners hoped for.
“The event was a great experience. The art therapy was enjoyable as well as helpful. I learned different ways of expressing myself, expressing emotions. Those tools are useful in my day-to-day life and are essential to my mental well-being. It was great to spend the day with others in my community, and getting to know new people, too.”
— Quote from one of the participants
Try It Yourself
Art Therapy Gratitude is a simple exercise that you can do anywhere. It combines the healing modalities of Art Therapy with Gratitude principles that are known to improve your overall mood and mental well-being.
- When you are feeling under pressure, stressed, anxious, angry, or depressed: take a 15-minute Gratitude Break. No answering text messages, emails, calls, or social media during this break. Better yet, put your phone on silent, do not disturb, or airplane mode.
- Start by recording your current mood. Ask yourself: “How do I feel right now?” Keep it short and don’t dwell. Record your mood with whatever comes naturally. Either use a recorder/voice memo app on your phone, or video of yourself, or simply write it out the old-fashioned way. Now that you have your current mood recorded, take a deep breath. Breathe in to the count of eight(8), hold your breath for a few seconds. Then exhale through your mouth until all the air has left your lungs. Let go of your thoughts, your previous mood, and continue this deep breathing following the count until you feel content. Then move on to the next step.
- Think of 5 things you are grateful for. Write them down if you want, or record them the same way you recorded your mood.
- Now that you have the 5 things you’re grateful for, draw them out. Use anything at your disposal. Sticky notes and sharpies, pen and paper, paint and canvas. Whatever your medium, get playfully creative with it. Try to keep this exercise as analog as possible to detox from digital stimuli.
- Now repeat step 2 again and ask yourself: “How do I feel right now?” Record your answer. Take a deep breath, hold it for eight(8) seconds, and let it go. Smile, you’re all done!
That was easy, right?
Now the hard part is to repeat this daily or whenever you feel overwhelmed or just want to feel good. The more you do it, the more you will begin to feel the long-term results of positive well-being carry over into your work and everyday life.
Matheo is a community activist, UX designer, and multimedia artist. He engages with the design community to inspire creatives to use design as a tool for change. Matheo also serves as a co-chair of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ youth community Advisory Board, designing solutions that engage the LGBTQIA community and programming events that help fight the HIV epidemic amongst youth.