16 Art Therapy Activities to Help Improve Your Mental Health & Happiness

It is a well-known fact that art and craft can help you to improve your mental health and happiness. By pulling out your craft supplies and getting creative, you can explore your feelings, boost your confidence and develop a greater understanding of your mental health.

The process of using arts and crafts to explore and reflect on your mental health is known as art therapy. If you’re worried, stressed, or suffering from trauma, art is a great way to relax and express how you feel, especially when these cannot be put directly into words.

In the past, art therapy has been known to help with a variety of different conditions including cases of anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and other emotional issues.

No matter what your age, anyone can benefit from a bit of art therapy. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some great activities that you can try at home.

Get Your Craft On and Relax

If you’re looking for some activities to relieve your anxiety and help you relax, why not try…

Zentangle

Example of a zentangle
Example of a zentangle – image courtesy of popsugar.com

Zentangle is a form of doodling that uses structured and repeat patterns. The basics of this are quite simple but the results can be beautiful. More importantly, you don’t need to plan or think about what you draw too much, meaning that you can relax and let your creativity bloom. It’s a great way to increase your concentration, improve your self-confidence and get rid of stress.

What you will need:

  • A fineliner pen – traditionally black
  • A pencil
  • A square piece of paper – normally 3.5 x 3.5 inches wide
  • Pencil crayons (optional)

On your paper, pencil in four dots (one in each corner) half an inch in from the edges. Connect the dots to form a border – this can be straight, wavy, zig-zag or curved. Inside your border, draw some pencil lines to divide the space for your Zentangles.

Now, it’s time to grab your pen! Draw out your pattern, letting your pen move across the paper without worrying about what it looks like. Move the direction of the paper as you go, turning and inverting it. Once your drawing is complete add in any color or shading and then sit back and appreciate your work.

Tip: You won’t need an eraser for this activity; there is no wrong or incorrect way to Zentangle. Embrace your creativity!

Coloring

coloring in
Image courtesy of easypeasyandfun.com

Nearly everyone can recall a time in their childhood when they pulled out some paper and crayons and lost themselves in a world of coloring. Who says you can’t do the same at any age? Coloring is a great way to relax and detach yourself from any anxieties. Instead of focussing on your worries, you’re more focused on the lines on the page and your ability to keep within them.

In recent years, it’s gotten very popular, and now it’s not that difficult to go out and buy a themed adult coloring book and some good quality coloring pens or pencils. But if you can’t go out to the shops, there are loads of websites out there that offer free printables or you could even draw your own design.

What you will need:

  • Pencil crayons or pens
  • Your chosen image – either from a coloring book, website or one that you have drawn yourself

Simply choose your image and start coloring. Work by building up the block colors, and then moving on to add in your shades and blend your colors together. Be creative and when you’ve finished, why not frame your work and display it for all to see!

Tip: If you are using pens, make sure your ink doesn’t bleed through the paper onto the sheet below. Test it first before you start. If it does, place a thick piece of card underneath your picture as you work, reducing the likelihood of transfer.

Finger Painting

Image courtesy of finoak.com

Here’s another great example of a childhood craft that can help you to relax. Sure, things might get a little messy, but playing with paints is a great way to relieve stress and disperse your every day worries. Even more importantly, it lets you express your emotions without having to rely on words.

What you will need:

  • Paint – acrylic or poster
  • Paint pallet
  • Paper or card – the thicker the better – lots of paint makes for very wet paper!
  • Protective mat or cover

You’ll need a big clear space for this one. Make sure your work surface is clear and covered with a protective mat. Separate your paint colors and make sure that you can easily dip your hand into each color before you start, then get painting! You can be as precise or as messy as you want to be.

Tip: Make sure you’re wearing old clothes for this activity as getting paint out of fabric is tricky! Also remove all of your watches, rings, and bracelets, roll up your sleeves and make sure you have some cleaning supplies to hand before you start.

Painting to Music

painting and music
Image courtesy of jerrysartarama.com

Music and emotions go hand-in-hand. You only have to switch on a radio and tune it into an upbeat tune to feel instantly happy, or a piece of classical music to make you feel relaxed. Add in some paint and you have a great match!

What you need:

  • Paint (acrylic or poster)
  • Paper/Card/Canvas
  • Paintbrushes
  • Pencil
  • Music

Turn on your music and listen. Think about what you’re feeling then get painting. With this activity, you can plan your work out as you’re listening, or simply just react to what you hear. It’s all about whatever feels comfortable to you and putting your unspoken feelings and emotions onto paper.

Tip: Find a space where you can listen to your music in peace so that you can fully relax, if this isn’t possible, consider painting outside in the fresh air using a portable easel. Once you’ve finished painting and it has dried, you can always add in some more detail with marker pens or ink.

Art & Emotion

Design a Postcard or Greetings Card

Postcard

If you’re upset or angry about something, but don’t know how to express it, why not design a postcard or greetings card. Color, draw, or paint your unspoken feelings onto your paper and strip yourself of your negative thoughts and feelings.

You don’t have to send your postcard or even display your work, once you’re done put it somewhere safe or even destroy it. This activity is all about releasing any negative feelings you have and turning them into something beautiful.

If you do want to send it somewhere, post it to Postsecret, a website that receives anonymous postcards (and publishes them, anonymously). The site is definitely worth checking out and can be quite comforting to see what others are going through too!.

What you need:

  • Paper/Card/Canvas or a blank postcard
  • Coloring Pencils
  • Paints (acrylic)
  • PVA Glue
  • Old pictures, magazines

Once you’re ready, put your feelings onto paper. Rip up your old pictures and magazines and glue them into a collage effect or you could even paint or draw your feelings. If you’re feeling brave, mix your forms and create a beautiful piece of mixed-media.

Tip: You can use anything and everything for this activity. The best thing to do is raid your craft stash and see what you can use. If you don’t have a craft stash, see what you can find around the house.

Create a Mixed-Media Journal

Mixed media journal
Image courtesy of jenndalyn.com

The act of writing down our thoughts and feelings into a diary or journal is very cathartic. It removes our internalized thoughts and puts them onto paper, releasing them into reality. If you’re looking for a way to explore your emotions, a mixed-media journal is a great way to do this.

What you need:

  • A blank journal or sketchbook – A5 or larger
  • Paint brushes, pencils, pens – glitter gel pens are great
  • PVA Glue – or a stronger glue for any 3D items you might stick in
  • Stamps/Inks
  • Old books/greetings cards/papers
  • Old newspapers and magazines
  • Metal embellishments, jewels, beads, stickers

It might be a good idea to plan out your pages in advance. Assign each page an emotion, feeling, or even a specific event to depict. Use all of your different craft supplies and mediums (mixing together painting, drawing, and stamping, etc.) to turn all of your emotions into something abstract.

Tip: This is another great craft stash buster. But remember the more 3D items you add into your journal, the harder it will be to close. Don’t forget to let everything dry before you turn to the next page.

Mold a Relationship Sculpture

Mold a Relationship Sculpture
Image courtesy of artforkidshub.com

It’s often our family and friendship connections that help to cement our emotional place within the wider world. A great way to explore your feelings regarding your family dynamics is sculpture. Use your choice of sculpting medium to explore your thoughts concerning your family and your place within it.

What you need:

  • A good sculpting clay for beginners (Modeling Clay/Play-Dough or Salt-Dough)
  • Modeling tools (optional)
  • Acrylic paint and paintbrushes to decorate

This activity is not about getting your sculptures to be as realistic as possible. Instead, aim for a more abstract sculpture. Once it’s modeled and dry, why not add some color? Colors are also a great way of expression – lighter and brighter colors can be linked with feelings of happiness, whilst darker and dull colors normally mean the opposite.

Tip: If you don’t have any modeling clay to hand, why not make your own salt-dough or make a sculpture out of recyclable items.

Puppet Therapy

sock puppets
Image courtesy of handmadecharlotte.com

Puppets have long been associated with acting and theatre, however, making and using a puppet is also a great way of exploring and channeling all of your inner emotions. If you can’t freely speak about your emotions, maybe creating a puppet to embody them might help.

There are plenty of types of puppets to choose from including sock puppets, hand puppets, and shadow puppets. All require different amounts of crafting and different supplies.

For a basic sock puppet you will need:

  • An old sock
  • Fabric
  • Thread/needle or fabric glue
  • Scissors
  • Buttons

Figure out which way your sock will sit on your hand first – you don’t want to sew (or glue) on your features onto the wrong part of the puppet. Sew on your buttons and fabric to create features such as eyes, hair, and clothes. Remember: your puppet does not have to represent a person; it could embody a feeling or a memory.

Tip: If making a puppet isn’t quite to your taste, why not make a soft toy instead?

Coping with the Negatives

Life has its ups and downs; here are a few ways to help you deal with those less positive feelings.

Re-creating Your Safe Space

woman sitting in a chair

Feelings of trauma, loss, and fear can often be displaced with those of comfort and safety. Nothing is more special in regards to these as a safe space. Sometimes that is an actual pinpoint on a map, or it may be a person or a memory. For this activity, we’re going to create your safe space.

To construct your safe space, you can use many different varieties of art and craft. You may wish to paint your safe space – the memory of Christmas mornings as a child, the abstract feelings of warmth you get eating your favorite home-cooked dish.

You could recreate your safe space from collaging shells from your family beach holiday or sticking all of your old concert tickets into a mixed-media display. The possibilities for recreating your space are endless. There is no correct way of doing this exercise, but the result should be something you can keep and admire for years to come.

Worry Dolls

worry dolls
Image courtesy of redtedart.com

A worry shared is a worry halved, as they say.

Worry Dolls are a brilliant way of discharging your negative feelings. Perfect for all ages, they act as a friend who you can share all of your worries with.

What you need:

  • Dolly Pegs
  • Yarn – ideally of light worsted yarn weight
  • Marker Pens
  • Glue
  • Lollipop sticks (flat)

Carefully cut your flat lolly stick into two halves (these will become the worry dolls arms). Grab your dolly peg and tightly knot a piece of yarn around its middle. Start to wrap your wool around the peg evenly – this should be below the wooden ball at the top (head) and stop 3/4 of the way down the wooden split at the bottom (legs).

Whilst winding the wool, remember to place the arms on the body with some glue to anchor them in place. Don’t forget to draw on their facial features and glue on some hair!

Now you’ve got a friend to tell all of your worries to. Traditionally once you’ve told your worries to your doll, you place it under your pillow at night. Your doll should relieve you of your concerns allowing you to get a good night’s sleep.

Tip: You can make your worry doll more vibrant by using different shades of yarn.

Collaging Your Loss into Something Both Beautiful and Powerful

A good way of expressing all of your troubles is to write them down.

Even when you can’t speak about them or put them into words, sometimes it’s just easier to write about it. When even that becomes impossible, you could grab a pencil and draw them. This activity is a good way of getting your feelings about loss and trauma onto paper. Once that’s been achieved, you can remold them into something more positive.

What you will need:

  • Paper or card
  • Pen/pencil
  • PVA Glue
  • Embellishments

On your card/paper write or draw your negative feelings making sure there is enough room around each to tear them up. Next rip around each of your worries – this doesn’t have to be neat or tidy, you can even tear through them if you wish.

Grab another sheet of card or paper and arrange your pieces into a positive design of your choice – this could be the image of something fun or bright like a rainbow. Once you are happy with their placement, stick them into position.

At this point, you can add any embellishments and color. To finish, cover the whole design with a thin layer of PVA to seal.

Why not embrace your worries and display your finished piece?

Make Temporary Art

Temporary Art
Image courtesy of jugglingwithkids.com

Ephemeral art is designed not to last forever; in fact, it can be dismantled very quickly. The act of creating something, only for it to be destroyed soon after allows the artist to explore the links between loss and mourning and confronting their feelings towards this.

Great examples of Ephemeral art include sand art and pavement chalk creations. However, you can use lots of different materials to create this type of art. Go out into nature and take a look around you, what can you find? Collect items which you know are not permanent and then start creating.

What you could use:

  • Chalk
  • Sand
  • Flowers/ fallen leaves/feathers
  • Pebbles

Once you’ve collected your items, decide on what you will make. Is it an abstract design, or an image of something familiar? When it’s completed, enjoy your creation but don’t feel too bad when it disappears. You can always try creating something else!

Tip: If you collect your items from nature, focus more on discarded and fallen items on the ground. You want to reuse items, not take from something that is still growing.

Do Something for Yourself or For Others

Sometimes you just need a little you time. Other times, it feels great to be selfless and give to others. Here are a range of activities to help you celebrate your positive qualities or share some happiness with others.

Capturing Yourself in Your Art

Self-drawings are a great way to explore how you see yourself. For this activity, we’ll be focussing on capturing your positive strengths and putting them onto paper.

What you will need:

  • A freestanding mirror
  • Canvas, card, or paper
  • Your choice of mediums – you could use a watercolor paint set, acrylics, or simply pencil crayons

Find a free and quiet space and set up your supplies. In your mirror, study your reflection and then begin to transfer what you see onto your paper. Don’t just paint what you see with your eyes, but look at transferring your positive attributes too. What do you see when you look at yourself?

Tip: Not quite confident enough to try a traditional self-portrait? Don’t worry; why not try an abstract one instead? Or if you want to try something different why not take and print out some pictures of yourself. Tear these apart and put them all back together into one big self-portrait of yourself.

Draw Yourself as a Tree

Tree of strength
Image courtesy of creativityintherapy.com

Trees are strong and withstand years of hardship. They stand tall and true whilst supported by their strong roots. What would you look as a tree? This is a great activity to help you discover and identify all your positive traits.

What you will need:

  • Sketchbook or paper
  • Pencil crayons
  • A Pen

Draw yourself as a tree, making sure to give yourself lots of strong roots. Next grab your pen and next to each root start listing all of your strong qualities. Are you loyal, caring, resourceful, kind?

Tip: Want to do something a little different? Draw a tree, but instead of listing your qualities in the roots, why not picture them flourishing from its leaves.

When you’ve done, display your work!

Rock Painting

rock painting
Image courtesy of youandkids.com

This is another craft that has become very popular in recent years. You’ve probably found a few on your travels around your neighborhood. It’s always a delight to discover one and it feels good to give to others, so why not spread some happiness and distribute some of your own?

What you will need:

  • Clean dry rocks
  • Acrylic paint or paint pens
  • PVA Glue or a craft sealant
  • Paintbrushes

Take your rock and decide on a design – this could be a picture, a doodle, or an inspirational quote. Start painting! Once you’ve finished let your design dry and then cover it with your craft sealer. Leave to dry.

Now take a walk around your local area and leave your stones for others to find.

Summary

Art and crafts can be an extremely cathartic way to help an individual understand their inner thoughts and feelings. Not only can they help you to sit back and relax, but they can also assist you in dealing with such feelings as loss, trauma, and anxiety.

From creating a worry doll to crafting your own mixed-media journal, why not partake in some art therapy activities and see what arts and crafts can do for you.

Hope you got something from this article.

Ged Richardson