• Art therapist Lisa Snook knows well that creative exercises can help manage anxiety and other emotional distress

  • Here she shares a 5-step creative exercise to help lockdown anxiety – and don't worry, you don't need a studio, nor highly tuned artistic skills

  • Our therapists are available to see clients online during the coronavirus crisis – find yours here

This is a challenging time. I certainly haven’t experienced anything like it. I’m imagining that for most, being housebound and maintaining social isolation are boundaries never before experienced. And how much more challenging it is to learn to cope with new experiences and life changes, whilst also feeling anxious or witnessing those around us as such.

I wanted to write a post that could offer some support in managing anxiety. As an art therapist, I’ve both experienced and witnessed, the power creativity has in being able to calm the nervous system. A combination of simple breath exercises and art making, can help bring a person into a more present and calm state of mind.  It’s a simple way of soothing the nervous system.  

I’ve written some simple steps to follow. Have a read through and if you think this is something for you, give it a go. You can let me know how you get on and if you would like to send me a picture of your work, I will try to find a way of presenting a collective, online gallery. 

1. Clear a space for yourself somewhere in your home. Somewhere where you can sit comfortably and use a pen and paper. If you can, clear away any clutter. Think of making a mini environment for yourself that is both pleasant and tranquil to be in.

2. Bring some paper and drawing materials into your environment, actively invite them into your space. Whatever you have to hand will suffice. It could be the back of an envelope or writing paper, a pen, pencil or biro.

3. Sit in the space you have created. Feel your sit bones connect to the chair, ground, cushion, whatever you have chosen to sit on. If your feet are on the ground, feel how the earth is supporting them. Place your hands on top of your thighs and take five deep breathes, inhaling and exhaling slowly and fully. Next, pick up your pen or pencil and take it for a walk across the paper.  Doodle, make shapes, patterns, scribbles, circles, whatever direction your hand chooses to take, just observe it. When you have finished making shapes on the page, put your pen down and this is the hard bit!  Try to look at your image with curiosity and wonder, without judgements, assumptions or criticism.  Perhaps you might see forms, patterns, faces, or other images emerge, or you might not.  

4. Next, take a new sheet of paper and write down some of your thoughts, feelings and sensations.

5. When you have finished, notice how you feel and if the exercise has helped. If you think it has, offer yourself the possibility of coming back to this space and repeating the exercise. 

It can be helpful to date your work so as to keep a kind of creative journal.  

Creative journaling can be a useful way in both noticing your psychological and emotional journey through this difficult time. It can also help to discharge some of the anxiety by quite literally putting the feeling ‘down’ on paper. 

Lisa Snook is a verified welldoing.org art therapist in Teddington – she also offers online therapy.

Further reading

What has the coronavirus lockdown taught us about home?

Covid-19 lockdown and mental health: it's OK not to be OK

Finding hope in nature in the face of coronavirus

What does creativity look like in the brain?

How creativity boosts mental health and wellbeing