College of Education Self-Care

  • Participants at the self-care drum session
  • Sunset over water
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  • Zen garden with rocks
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  • Path through trees with autumn leaves

Self-care and the arts

September 18, 2023

Dear College of Education Community,

Engaging in art is an act of self-care. This has been found to be true at every age and with many forms of artistic expression. Recently, recognition of the importance of the arts for wholistic health and wellbeing has been a focus of education and has been supported in California in the recent passage of Proposition 28, which now funds arts education in all K-12 schools. Studies with adults have also shown that expression through the arts can have many benefits, such as boosting self-esteem, facilitating healing, and reducing stress. One article published in Art Therapy, titled “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making,” documented the powerful biological impact art can have on stress reduction. The benefits of art and ways to practice self-care through the arts have been addressed in an article titled “Art for Self-Care and Mental Health” published by the Whole U faculty and staff self-care program at the University of Washington. Please see helpful tips from their program below:

Benefits of Art for Mental Health

Stress Relief-Stress is proven to be detrimental for our physical and mental health. One of the best ways to combat stress, is to make art! Study after study has shown that drawing, doodling, coloring, and simply creating something for 20 plus minutes reduces cortisol. The best part is that previous art experience is not required to reap these benefits.

Boosts Self-Esteem-The consistent practice of art can build a sense of accomplishment for all ages in just 45 minutes. Creativity makes us feel good about ourselves. It validates our unique ideas and our ability to turn ideas into something physical. Taking time for your hobbies and crafts often provides a sense of self-worth and confidence in our abilities. So knit that sweater and play that piano!

Healing-Healing from trauma is a complicated process and there are many practices that can help facilitate this process. Research has proved that art can help process pain and provide a direct connection between the mind and body to help with the healing process.

Expressive Therapy-Expressive arts, such as visual arts, movement, drama, music, and writing, foster deep personal growth and community development. Expressive art therapy allows users to laugh, let go, and relax, which helps decrease depression, anxiety, and stress.

Ways to Practice Self-Care through Art

Use Art as a Release-A common exercise to utilize art for release is to first represent things you want to let go of as words, drawings, colors, or images on a blank canvas. Then you can burn it, rip it up, cover it up with something new that inspires you, throw it away, put it in water, or destroy it in any way you please.

Respond through Art-In the same way that releasing through art can help us overcome difficulties, it can also be used to cope with pain and negative feelings. Some examples include writing to a loved one that hurt you or taking photos of a place that used to hold meaning to you. It is also helpful to find a piece of art you connect with such as music, writing, or a painting, and to then utilize this inspiration to create something of your own as an emotional response. Understanding what you are trying to capture through this piece and breaking down how it makes you feel can be beneficial to this analysis.

Mindful Creativity-Art doesn’t require thought, it can be a free-flowing creative process. To practice mindful art, you can simply start creating or choose a piece of art as inspiration for your own creation. Block out the other thoughts and distractions in your life and give yourself a set amount of time to make art or enjoy it.

Collage your Thoughts or Visions-Some people find it difficult or don’t enjoy the practice of drawing, painting, or writing but there are endless ways to practice art. You can create a collage that expresses what you’re feeling about a specific situation to process your emotions and thoughts. You may also collage a vision board to focus on the future and use photos that excite you. All you need are some magazines, newspapers, or old images around your house.

Color a Feeling Wheel-Leah Guzman is an art therapist who wrote a book on further practices in essential art therapy, and an exercise she champions is to develop a color feeling wheel to deal with emotions. It starts by drawing a circle then dividing it into eighths and writing one emotion in each section, then pick a color that represents that feeling and color the section in. Afterwards, pay attention to which emotions were associated with which colors, the feelings you wrote first, and how this is applicable to your everyday life.

Other Practices of Art

The benefits of art are extended across any medium that excites you. Consider trying different forms of art and tapping into your creative mind along the way. Here’s a list of other popular art forms to explore:

  • Doodling or scribbling
  • Coloring
  • Writing
  • Photography
  • Sculpting
  • Playing an instrument
  • Dancing
  • Fashion
  • Needlework crafts
  • Jewelry making

To read more, please go to: 

And for in-depth information, check out:

Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us Susan Magsamen (Author), Ivy Ross (Author), Ellyn Jameson (Narrator), Random House Audio (Publisher)

For a list of other self-care options, you can also go to our COE self-care website for resources for faculty, staff, students, and the community at

Art can be a powerful way to engage in your own self-care and mental health. So find that creative part of you!