How Art Can Help to De-stress at Work

blue circle - how art can help to de-stress at workDid you know that US workers are considered the most overworked in the developed world? According to a Forbes article, we work longer hours and have more stress-related illnesses than Europe and Japan. On top of that, the holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year at work. Holiday-shortened deadlines and end-of-year business demands add pressure.

In my creativity workshops I often encourage teams to step outside their comfort zone in order to be creative. But creativity can also have the opposite effect by providing comfort and relaxation.


I discovered painting for relaxation when I stayed at home with my baby. My mental state at that time can be described in one word: scatterbrained. I would start a task and then be pulled away by some urgent need of the baby or the other kids. When I was getting ready to get into the shower the baby would wake up and cry and so instead of showering I would go on a walk to have her fall back asleep in the stroller. I would abandon a pile of partially folded laundry because of a dirty diaper. And soon the house looked like a cemetery of unfinished projects. After a couple months of continuous distractions my brain would lose its ability to focus and think clearly. Scatterbrained became my constant status. Even when there was an hour without distractions, my brain wasn’t capable of switching back to normal behavior and would still spin in circles.

Then, one evening I painted, and magically my brain quieted and was able to focus on what I was doing. The feeling was amazing, and I was utterly surprised, having experienced painting previously more as a challenge. This time it was purely relaxing and the hamster wheel in my head calmed down. The difference was that I just played with paint. I had no goal or plan that I was trying to accomplish. No expectations.

I have witnessed the same experience many times with my clients. Sometimes, when I ask them about the painting experience, the first response is “This was so relaxing!” And more often than not their faces express surprise.

painting for relaxationWhy can painting be so relaxing?  One reason, as neuroscientist and psychologist Dr Kelly Lambert found out, is that any work we do with our hands lowers stress and anxiety. Creating, repairing, crafting, or mixing with our hands alters our mood.

The second reason is that dipping the brush in paint and slowly spreading the liquid over the canvas is a tactile as well as sensual experience. The soft pressure on the canvas and the movement feel calming. The spread of the wet juicy colors and the blending of the paints enchants us to savor the moment. And after a while our mind gets in sync with the movement of our hand and arm, connected to our eyes that accompany each one of those movements. We physically and mentally start to align and the scattered brain finds rest.

Painting, by all means, is not the only creative activity that allows us to unwind  and relax. From coloring books to journaling or singing, there are several creative ways to calm your mind. New research by the University of Otago found that creative activities don’t just boost the mood while doing it; well-being was increased the following days as well.

Creativity can be so soothing for our mind because we often enter a state of “flow.” Flow, or being “in the zone,” means that we are so fully immersed in a task that we lose track of time. Our sense of self and our sense of self consciousness begin to disappear. In the flow state our brain releases chemicals, like dopamine and endorphins, that make us feel good and at ease. That might be one of the reasons why doctors in Canada and the UK are now allowed to prescribe art to patients with a range of ailments, from depression to diabetes to chronic illnesses. For people who are too fidgety to meditate, finding flow through creativity can be a great alternative for focusing and relaxing.

At work, the gift of relaxation can be one of the most meaningful presents a manager can give to the team. Creating a moment to de-stress together not only gives employees a much needed break to unwind, but also shows deep appreciation. The message is: “I see how hard you work, I understand your needs and struggles, and you deserve to relax and let your mind unwind.”

You could do a simple creative project together, like making holiday cards (there are tons of pinterest board ideas), or you could invite someone from outside to facilitate a creative experience for you.

Taking care of employees includes encouraging them to de-stress at work and helping them find the off-switch. They will then be able to enjoy the holidays and remain the engaged employee you need —  at work and in life.

mountain - how art can help to de-stress at work


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