Author Archives: Jenny Stradling

About Jenny Stradling

Owner and CEO at Eminent SEO in Mesa, Arizona. My agency offers an array of website and marketing services to brands across the US. After years of doing addiction treatment marketing, I was asked to become a member of the ECHO Foundation Board in order to use my skills to help spread this very important mission and message. I have researched, studied and written content on mental health, substance use disorders, treatment and recovery tools since 2005. As an artist myself, I enjoy sharing ideas and information on how art can heal. I now advocate to help end the stigma around substance use disorder and look for more ways to share how art can help those who are in recovery, or simply looking for ways art can help with your mental health.

Creative Journaling for Mental Health

Creative Journaling for Mental Health

Journaling is a mentally stimulating activity that can take many forms. Some people journal by writing daily passages while others prefer to write less frequently but with greater length. Still others don’t write at all but utilize a regular journal to doodle or channel their creativity in other ways. In fact, the best thing about journaling is that there aren’t boundaries. It is a boundless opportunity to express yourself.

While creative journaling techniques can be used for several reasons and certainly aren’t exclusively a mental health or relapse prevention exercise, they can be an exceptional recovery tool. Journaling and channeling creativity in the manner you most enjoy can be a marvelous mental exercise, promoting sound health and an improved quality of life.

What Is Creative Journal Writing?

Writing is the mode of creative expression most associated with journaling, so it’s fitting that the most open form of written journaling is known as “creative journaling.” Creative journals are different from a journal used exclusively for one purpose, like charting your thoughts or committing important things to memory. While that kind of journaling can be productive, it exercises different mental reflexes than a creative journal. Creative journaling allows you to add visuals to your writing, including doodles, drawings, paintings, photos, or even just pops of color.

When you’re considering the role creative journaling can play in supporting mental health, a good mindset to have is that every person is creative. Some people don’t enjoy writing while others don’t like drawing or creating visual art, but everyone can find some value in a creative journal. That’s because everyone has at least some creative passion in them somewhere. Finding it and using a creative journal to nourish and express it, can have a significant impact on your recovery.

Art Journaling Materials

Art Journaling Materials

Although you can use all sorts of art material to create, all you really need is your journal and something to draw or paint with. Don’t have paint? You can get creative and use tea, coffee or even vegetables to create a stain.

Other materials you might want to experiment with:

  • Watercolors
  • Markers
  • Pens
  • Charcoal
  • Pencil
  • Different sizes of paint brushes
  • Stickers
  • Glue
  • Tape
  • Stencils
  • Scissors
  • Rulers

Scrapbooking and Collages

Scrapbooking and Collages in Art Journaling

Your creative eye may be at its best looking at magazines, newspapers, or other publications and finding ways to arrange the headlines and pictures. This could take the form of scrapbooking certain types of visual content or creating collages to mix images together.

Photography

Photography is a form of art and can effectively be translated into an art journal. Find unique ways to capture your interests in film or digital photography. Construct a journal showcasing work you feel particularly passionate about and describe why you feel strongly about the images.

How to Start Your Journal to Support Mental Health

Beginners can start journaling to help refine skills used in everyday life. Whether you have experience with visual mediums, journaling, or neither of the two, creative journaling can be a creative stimulant. If something in your life naturally leads to an idea to sketch or express yourself in written form within the pages of your journal, don’t resist that urge.

Getting started writing your creative journal usually begins one of two ways: by free writing or by using a creative journaling prompt. Most people fluctuate between the two as the need strikes.

Free Writing

Free writing should be simple—just start with a blank page and write or draw anything and everything you think of. The ideas don’t have to connect or make sense together. Eventually, you will encounter an idea you want to expand on. Let your mind lead the way and add art or writing as you see fit.

If you’re having trouble beginning with a free write, try a brainstorming activity. Find your favorite method for brainstorming or try a variety.

Some recommended methods include:

  • Develop a word cloud centered around the first topic you can think of, writing any words that come to mind
  • Look at a visual and write about it while adding creative flair
  • Add parameters to refine your thoughts on a selected idea
  • Remove parameters as you hit dead ends—brainstorming is a time to go wild
Use some of the above tried-and-true established methods of brainstorming or create your own. You can even use your creative journal to brainstorm new methods of brainstorming.

Creativity Journal Prompts

Free writing isn’t for everyone. Prompt yourself with a question you find in a counseling session, peer group, or other source, or browse a list of prompts for one that strikes your fancy. Some of the best questions to explore are ones of self-discovery. Ask yourself questions about your fears, what you enjoy, or something you aspire to achieve.

Consider these prompts that relate to your recovery:

  • Write about the progress you’ve made
  • Write about what your recovery journey has taught you about yourself
  • Write a letter to who you were in the past, now, or in the future
  • Write a letter to your substance of choice
  • Write about a skill or hobby you’d like to learn
  • Write about your happiest moment, or your saddest moment
  • Write about your goals
  • Write about mistakes and lessons learned
  • Write about your loved ones, and why they matter to you
  • Write about your biggest recovery-related fear
  • Write about what you are looking forward to the most in your recovery

Art Journaling Theme Ideas

Whether you’ve chosen a prompt or a free write, now you’ll need to add creative art to your journal. Keep in mind that a creative journal need not feature written words at all. It can involve some writing, ranging from bulleted notes to paragraphs of prose or lyrics, but creative or art journaling should also encompass visual expressions. Drawing, painting, cutting, and pasting—it’s all on the table when it comes to art journaling.

Art journaling, just like written journaling as a creative outlet, is an opportunity to experiment. Try new colors, mix colors, take an object you see every day and depict how it would look in a new color or even in grayscale. Silence that inner critic and make mistakes.

If art journaling is a new concept for you, here are some examples of themes and potential projects you could perform in the journal to get started.

Landscape Journal

Go outside. Look at the world around you. Whether you are in a rural setting, an urban cityscape, or a suburban neighborhood, artistically document what you see. If you’re tired of what you see around you, think of somewhere else you’ve been or imagine a new location altogether. How does it feel to be there? What does it sound like? Are there animals, plants or flowers growing? Take a moment to be mindful, then, bring it to life in your journal pages.

Landscape Journal

Dreamy landscapes by artist Merel Djamila

Although you don’t have to use words, a landscape can be the perfect backdrop for a beautiful quote inspired by the scene or your journal entry for the day.

Music Journal

If you’re like me you listen to music all day! Sometimes a song lyric is just so poetic it deserves its own quote art on a page. Think about a favorite artist, song or album. What about this music inspires you? Draw what you feel or find stickers or stencils that use musical instruments to represent the song. You could use sheet music for layering.

Here are some page ideas:

  • Quote a lyric
  • Write down how a specific song makes you feel
  • Create a playlist
  • Illustrate a song with a visual story
  • Create your version of an album cover
  • Journal about how a band or song helped get you through a hard time
  • Dedicate a page to your favorite artist
Music Journal

Music inspired art journal page by Karen Gaunt

Dream Journal

If you remember your dreams, a creative journal is the perfect place to write and draw what happened and how you felt. Your mind may connect dots it wouldn’t otherwise in helping you understand what motivated a particular dream. You’ll also be able to connect a visual medium, your dream, to a written one in your journal.

“Dreaming is the art of the mind. Every dream is intrinsically a creative experience. As the artists of the night, we are co-participants in weaving new creations from the complexity of our entire being.” — Fariba Bogzaran and Daniel Deslauriers, Integral Dreaming: A Holistic Approach to Dreams (2012)

Dream Journal

Dream Journal 2, 2002-2003 by artist Connie Mississippi

Starting a dream journal is simple. All it takes is an open mind, a little creativity and the willingness to experiment. It can sometimes feel incomplete to try to translate a dream into linear form, like writing. Instead, sketch out dream images in your journal upon waking. If you’re inspired to interact with the imagery further, try painting it.

Can’t really remember your dreams? That’s okay, you can still daydream!

A Gratitude Journal

When grappling with your mental health, some people find they can present their feelings better in artwork than with words. Use art to depict how you are feeling. Paired with other treatments, this could prove to be an important part of therapeutic recovery to stay on top of your mental health.

For me, simply using lines, circles and repetitive patterns has been endlessly helpful. However, in order to get the most out of the activity it’s important to start with an intention.

With mindfulness in mind, here are some gratitude prompts you might consider when working to improve your mental health:

  • Make a list of five things you’re grateful for that are found in nature.
  • Write about something positive that happened in your life recently that made you feel fortunate.
  • I admire these three qualities in myself: list at least 3.
  • What is that special person in your life? And why are you grateful for them?
  • Think of the things you’re grateful to have at home and write them down.
  • Write about a trip that you’ve taken with someone else that is especially memorable.
A Gratitude Journal

Art Journal Page by Pink Spark Studio

Travel Journal

A travel art journal is a great way to create memories, while also communicating your feelings. Making art can be tough to fit into your daily schedule, so when you travel, leave yourself some time to be alone with your work.

Here are a few ideas of types of travel journal entries you can try while traveling:

  • Listicles: A photo or doodle paired with a brief description is a good way to document your travels without spending too much time writing.
  • Sketch Notes: Sketch notes are the perfect way to illustrate your memories and review what you learned on your trip. These drawings will help you remember details, key points, and specifics.
  • Studying the Masters: When traveling somewhere with famous artworks, try dedicating pages to replicating the greats. This is a great opportunity to learn from the best while also documenting your trip.
Travel Journal

Travel Journal page from Wild We Roam

You can also create travel journal entries after your trip. Some might want to print photos to include or review sketch notes before creating other pages.

Other items you might include:

  • Ticket stubs
  • Programs, flyers and other printed reminders of events
  • Maps and guidebooks make sure envelopes, backgrounds and pockets
  • Postcards and stamps
  • Stickers and other cutouts that remind you or your trip

Here are some travel journal prompts:

  • I traveled to
  • I love this place because
  • I went here with
  • The people were
  • The food was
  • The culture is
  • The art feels
  • The architecture is
  • The weather was
  • The nature is
  • The place I stayed was
  • The thing I liked the best

The Best Art Journaling Tip? Just Get Started

As mentioned, the most difficult part of creative journaling is getting started. The idea of adding journaling into your schedule can seem daunting, or maybe you remain skeptical that you are creative enough to stick with a creativity journal. Make a conscious decision to start journaling and let the experience guide you to what style of writing and art are best for you. The exercise of journaling regularly in a creative fashion is beneficial on its own, and once you find what works for you the results could be even more significant.

ECHO Recovery is committed to supporting art and creativity as avenues to improve recovery results. If you need inspiration or want to share your own creativity, share it with us by tagging ECHO Recovery on Instagram.

Happy journaling!

 Best Art Journaling Tip

Art Journal on Behance

Is ADHD Medication A Risk Factor For Substance Use

Is ADHD Medication A Risk Factor For Substance Use?

Editor’s note: This article was written by Shannon Freeman who is a ADHD parent coach and the author of the ADHD Parent Supports newsletter.

As a therapist and parent advocate in the field of mental health and substance abuse for the last 30 years, I have been asked many times whether or not stimulant medications used to treat ADHD are addictive. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. The answer is tricky.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that a person is born with. It is characterized by a slow to develop frontal lobe and a difference in the way chemicals (especially dopamine) are released in the person’s brain. The cause of ADHD is unknown. We do know that it is hereditary. There are 25-34 genes that contribute to the disorder, according to Russell Barkley, PhD. There is a 91% chance of passing it to your children.

There are 3 types of ADHD:

1. Inattentive

2. Hyperactive

3. Combined

Symptoms may include:
  • Inability to stay focused
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Mind wandering
  • Difficulty with time management
  • Inability to sit still and/or a lot of fidgeting behavior
  • Not being able to wait your turn/interrupting others
  • Memory issues/forgetfulness
  • Impulsive or risk taking behaviors
  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Excessive movement and/or talking
  • Inability to complete tasks that the person has no interest in
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Procrastination
  • Difficulty managing emotions

ADHD is considered a disorder of executive functioning skills.

Simply put, executive functioning includes:

  • Time management
  • Initiating tasks
  • Remembering things (long or short term)
  • Controlling emotions
  • Planning
  • Knowing how/what to prioritize
  • Flexibility
  • Organizational skills
  • Self-control (eg. managing emotions and behaviors)
  • Self-awareness (eg. Cause and effect- how your behavior affects others)

ADHD symptoms are first seen during childhood, but not always diagnosed. It has been widely believed that ADHD is a disorder that people outgrow. This is not true. About 80% of children who are diagnosed with ADHD will also have it in adulthood. For some, the symptoms will decrease as they get older. For others, symptoms will remain at the same level.

There is a high comorbidity rate with ADHD and other disorders such as Autism (ASD), depressive disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and learning disabilities such as dyslexia. This fact can make it more difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. Because the symptoms that children are experiencing are often not tolerated in schools, public or at home, these kids find themselves in doctor’s offices where parents are trying to eliminate the symptoms. In Western medicine, the go-to to address unwanted symptoms of ADHD is stimulant medication.

What Does a Stimulant Do to a Child’s Brain?

According to a 2013 study, after one year of treatment with methylphenidate. PET scans show that there is an increase in dopamine transporter levels that may decrease the efficacy of the medication. This means that a higher dose could be needed to get the same effect. In the addiction field, this is called tolerance. There is disagreement in the ADHD field whether or not this study shows evidence of tolerance, however. Some ADHD professionals such as Russell Barkley PhD, believe that the brain increases dopamine transmitters in an attempt to create the proper level of dopamine.

Others state that it is plausible that tolerance is building over time. So here is where it gets tricky. There have been many studies that conclude that taking a stimulant to address symptoms of ADHD does not make that person any more likely to become addicted to drugs in the future. So the stimulant itself may not be a factor in leading a person to substance use. However, there have been many people in my office with ADHD and substance use disorders.

They report that they liked the benefits of the stimulant medication and wanted to feel better. Those people changed the route of administration of the medication ( ie crush, inhale, inject) or took more of the stimulant than was prescribed to get a quick boost. This behavior has been found to lead to use of other substances such as marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines. Other studies indicate that some people who take stimulants for ADHD have a higher rate of addiction, although the reason for this may not be straight-forward. Studies have shown that people with ADHD have a tendency toward addiction due to the symptoms they experience.

Risk taking behavior, impulsivity, a desire to feel more focused, etc can all lead to use of substances to self medicate. Of course there are many people who were prescribed a stimulant in childhood to treat ADHD and have never developed a substance use disorder. The problem is that there is no way to know which category your child will fall into.

Should I Medicate My Child?

 Should I Medicate My Child?

This question is asked every day, in my office. Parents often think that they have no choice but to medicate their child because school officials demand it, the pediatrician recommends it, or another parent medicates their child and says it’s the best thing to do.

Other parents feel that they have done something wrong because they are unable to “fix” their child and think medication is the only option. Still other parents are completely lost. They have read information online that confuses them. Whether or not to medicate a child is a very personal choice for every family. The first thing I talk to parents about are the pros and cons of medications.

Medications can be very helpful at decreasing hyperactivity, improving focus, and improving emotion regulation. Improvement may occur as soon as the initial dose. These quick improvements often lead to some relief at home and school. Medications do not improve a child’s ability to learn nor do they replace the need for behavioral skills training for both the parent and child.

Additionally, the possible side effects of medications can be insomnia, decreased appetite, weight loss, stomach problems, anxiety, irritability, headaches, itching or picking at skin, tics, “spacey” or” zombie” presentation, mood issues when the medication wears off, and possibly addiction.

What Other Options Are There to Treat ADHD Outside of Medication?

holistic ways to manage symptoms of ADHD

There are many holistic ways to manage symptoms of ADHD.

Here is a list of some methods that have helped people I have worked with:

  • Weighted blankets help decrease anxiety and improve sleep.
  • Dietary changes– including reducing caffeine, sugar processed and packaged foods, and foods heavy in dyes. A nutritionist or integrative mental health professional can help parents learn healthy choices for their child.
  • Supplements can be helpful in managing symptoms. Again, a nutritionist or trained professional can help you choose what is best for your child.
  • A strict daily routine will help your child know what to expect and can lessen emotional outbursts, anxiety, and confusion for both the child and parent.
  • Compression shirts are also great for helping reduce anxiety and emotional outbursts.
  • Chiropractors who specialize in children with ADHD can help to make sure your child’s body is aligned and functioning at its best.
  • Occupational therapy (OT) is useful to help your child fine tune motor skills, learn to problem solve, learn organizational skills, improve physical coordination, and develop the ability to do everyday tasks in a better manner. Contact an OT in your area to see what else they can assist with.
  • Mindfulness practices teach children skills to stay present in the moment. Things like meditation, coloring, using their senses to ground in the present moment, etc can be very helpful in managing symptoms of ADHD.
  • Relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, visualizations, breath work, yoga, dance, Tai Chi, massage, aromatherapy, music or art therapy are powerful ways to teach children to manage symptoms.
  • Biofeedback is a method of learning to control physiological functions of one’s own body. There are trained professionals in your community that can explain how this can help your child’s ADHD symptoms.
  • Create and stick to a healthy sleep routine. Getting enough sleep is extremely important in managing emotions, depressed mood, anxiety, and concentration issues.
    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other behavioral therapies can help your child learn to manage emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
  • Controlled screen time can help your child improve sleep, focus, mood, attention and behavioral issues. It can also decrease hyperactivity.
  • Parent education is crucial to creating a safe space for children with ADHD. Special needs require special interventions. Working with a parent advocate or coach can give parents the skills they need to understand how best to help their child.
  • Hypnosis is another holistic method that may help your child manage ADHD symptoms. Hypnosis can help with improving social skills, focus, concentration, sleep and anxiety.
  • Physical activity can assist with creating dopamine naturally. Dopamine is the main chemical stimulant medications help to increase.
  • Social skills training for children with ADHD helps improve self-esteem, confidence, and self-control.

Know Your Choices and Child

Child with ADHD

As with anything, knowing how to use these methods and finding the ones that best fit for your child is essential. There are many types of professionals, as suggested above, who are available to help parents and children manage ADHD. Parents need support to learn how to implement the holistic methods that can help their children and to balance their own needs while giving so much to their child.

Parents have choices. Since there are professionals on both sides of the discussion about the use of stimulants and their potential effect on addiction, I believe it is essential for parents to know that there are holistic methods to manage symptoms of ADHD. If a child learns to control their symptoms naturally, they have negated the potential of uncontrolled ADHD symptoms leading them to self medicate with alcohol, marijuana or illicit drugs and the potential to become addicted to prescribed stimulants.


This article was written by Shannon Freeman who is a ADHD parent coach and the author of the ADHD Parent Supports newsletter.

Her facebook Group ADHD Strength Based Support For Parents is focused on providing strength-based support for parents of children with ADHD. If you would like to learn ways to manage your child’s symptoms of ADHD and have found that medication alone does not yield the results you are looking for, this group is for you. This group helps you, as a parent, focus on the strengths ADHD brings to your child and your family rather than focusing on the negatives.

History of Art Therapy

Healing Through Self-Expression: The History of Art Therapy

While “art therapy” may sound like a distinctly new-age concept, it is anything but. Humans have always understood the therapeutic value of expressing themselves creatively. Some researchers place the earliest known intersection of medicine and the arts as far back as the cave-dwelling cultures of 40,000 years ago.1 Unless you happen to be a brontosaurus, that doesn’t qualify as “new age” by any means.

The History of Art Therapy

Art therapy can be defined in a number of ways. In a modern context, art therapy is usually a structured program where someone engages with an artistic process (e.g., a painting lesson or learning a musical instrument) with the deliberate intention of treating some mental or physical condition. Art has always been therapeutic, however. As a result, the story of art therapy begins long before any research experiments or scientific journals.

Art Therapy Pre-History

Pinpointing the origin of art therapy is impossible. Humankind has been communicating through drawing, dancing, storytelling, and the creation of aesthetically pleasing objects since before written history was a concept. This artistic expression has always been deeply linked to spiritual and therapeutic uses.

Today, the boundaries between art, medicine, and religion are very well defined, even to the point where these seem like entirely separate concepts with no meaningful overlap. For many ancient cultures, however, these distinctions were blurred to the point of nonexistence. A particular statue, for example, might be carved for use in a healing ritual that also had a deeply religious element to it. These early connections between the creation of aesthetic objects and the healing of the body, mind, and spirit may seem ancient and distant, but this tradition is still very much in line with the function and purpose of today’s more structured art therapy.

Art Therapy in Europe’s Tuberculosis Sanatoriums

Art Therapy in Europe’s Tuberculosis Sanatoriums

Art therapy as a formally structured medical practice began in Europe in the mid-1900s. The term itself is most often attributed to Adrian Hill, a British artist, who is believed to have coined the phrase “art therapy” in the 1940s.

Early use of art therapy occurred while treating tuberculosis patients. Tuberculosis was rampant throughout much of the era. In those days, treatment most often involved locking the infected (and contagious) patient in a sanatorium. These facilities existed as a combination of a modern medical quarantine center and inpatient hospital. In fact, art therapy sees continued use in tuberculosis cases today.2

People noticed that tuberculosis patients who expressed themselves through drawing and painting seemed to suffer less overall. By engaging in an artistic process and expressing themselves through a visual medium, they experienced a level of freedom and interactivity that their lonely, confined circumstances did not otherwise allow. It was obvious to observers among medical staff and patient families that the creation of art provided a healthy emotional release that was beneficial to the recovery process.

These theories and practices were adopted and formalized by mental hospitals and other institutions throughout Europe at a fairly rapid pace. By 1964, the United Kingdom was home to a professional organization calling itself The British Association of Art Therapists.

Art Therapy Comes to America

Art Therapy Comes to America

The American Art Therapy Association was not far behind, being founded five years later in 1969. Educator Margaret Naumburg was instrumental in popularizing art therapy with American patients and institutions. Naumburg’s work was deeply psychological and focused on expressing unconscious and subconscious thoughts through free association forms of art. Popular American artist Edith Kramer was another early proponent of art therapy in the United States.

What Does Art Therapy Do?

As with art itself, your therapeutic relationship to art can be a deeply personal and subjective thing. Just as art can be used and understood in almost unlimited ways, there are also nearly limitless health and wellness implications for art therapy. Psychology, emotional wellness, cognitive development, and even cardiovascular health are just a few of the areas in which art therapy might improve your overall health. It all depends on what sort of art you’re doing and how you’re going about it.

Specific applications for art therapy treatment include:

  • Expression of thoughts or feelings for persons with limited vocabulary/nonverbal persons.
  • Psychotherapy related to trauma, abuse, grief, and related issues.
  • Anxiety reduction.
  • Treatment of eating disorders.
  • Connection to subconscious or unconscious thought patterns.

Art Therapy in Action

You don’t need a medical diagnosis to benefit from art therapy.

Some examples of simple, everyday ways art therapy can have positive manifestations on anyone’s overall well-being include:

  • The artistic process is deeply meditative for many people, and meditation has a variety of positive effects.3
  • A dancer regularly engages in exercise and reaps all the health benefits that come with it.4
  • A sculptor working in heavy materials will develop muscle tone and endurance.
  • Creative writing can be a great way for someone to work out psychological and emotional issues at a distance by projecting them onto fictional characters
  • Regular daily journaling is a great practice for people who are equipped to confront their issues in a less abstract way.
  • Emergent forms of modern art (e.g., multimedia experiences, narrative video games) often involve teams of artists sharing highly specialized skills while collaboratively solving problems to create a piece of interactive art. The social and technical elements of such art forms can have a positive impact on many aspects of cognitive and emotional health.
  • General non-medical applications can increase mindfulness and help achieve personal growth.

These are just a few specific examples. The ways in which art can be therapeutic to you are only limited by your imagination and your willingness to engage with the artistic process in a healthy and open way.

Is Art Therapy Scientifically Proven?

 Is Art Therapy Scientifically Proven?

Some people mistakenly see art as being at odds with science, but art therapy is a beautiful and powerful intersection of the two. There is serious ongoing research into art therapy for a variety of applications, treating everything from AIDS to Parkinson’s.

Research conducted by the American Journal of Art Therapy found that people with mental health issues can benefit from the presence of art, and from art therapy.In fact, one study examined 27 reports on this subject to determine the effectiveness of art therapy and found that the following clinical populations experience significant positive impact:

  • Cancer patients
  • Individuals coping with trauma or PTSD
  • Those with a mental health or substance use disorder
  • Prison inmates
  • Elderly populations
  • Others who face daily challenges

In general, clients who have experienced emotional trauma, physical violence, domestic abuse, anxiety, depression, and other psychological challenges find that art therapy helps them cope.

Art therapy is a recognized profession, with its own master’s level training program. However, science is still studying the full benefits. For example one belief, not yet proven by science, is that different art media activate different brain regions. Some researchers have noted that media such as watercolor or clay helps the individual tap into more emotional centers. Whereas more technical activities that require measuring or building something 3D instead use more cognitive processes.

Some mental health professionals believe that a patient’s work often contains symbolic meanings, and these reflect memories and emotions that are difficult to access with words alone. Case studies do suggest that these treatments are effective.
However, because art therapy engages many different parts of the brain, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly which part to focus on for an isolated study. A study that could untangle all of the various aspects of seeing, thinking, or doing (visual, cognitive, or motor skills) would be a big challenge.

Is Art Therapy for Me?

You can get lost in a self-guided art-for-therapy project, such as art journaling, or find a more structured class with an art therapist depending on your needs and personal style. If you require serious medical or psychiatric intervention, many modern in-patient programs for common issues like addiction now offer alternative therapies, including art therapy.

Whatever your specific needs, experience and science tell us that art can help. For a person who is struggling with the symptoms of trauma or stress, for example, learning to express your feelings in a soothing and supportive way can be extremely helpful.

Nearly 23 million Americans struggle with mental health and substance use disorder issues every day.6 Only a small fraction of them will ever receive the expert care and consistent support needed for a successful, lasting recovery.

Support Art for Recovery

Support Art for Recovery

At ECHO Recovery, our mission is simple: to help as many people as possible find effective addiction treatment, education, sober housing and access to supporting mental health services, such as art for therapy classes, events and workshops. We believe in the power of art and want to make free therapeutic art activities accessible to all that need them.

Donate to ECHO Recovery today. Your donations will be used to support our Art for Recovery initiative. For more information visit our Art Corner and be sure to sign up for our newsletter to receive updates on future events, featured artists and merchandise for our Art Cart. Every effort, small or big, helps!


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What Does It Mean to Be Sober Curious

Sober Curious: A Growing Trend

A recent trend acknowledges the fact that even casual and moderate alcohol consumers can have that “I’m never drinking again” feeling, for one reason or another. If you’re a moderate drinker, maybe you’ve vowed to cut back on alcohol after a particularly bad hangover or you’ve thought hard about the effects alcohol is having on your life after a night of regrettable decision-making. Whatever the reason, once the immediate negative effects have passed, those feelings of conviction can wear off. But what if you really did take a break from alcohol? What if you quit completely?

This intermittent step that sometimes leads to long-term sobriety is known as the sober curious movement. Those who are “sober curious” can decide to take a break from alcohol for a set period, such as during “Dry January,” and may choose to eliminate alcohol from their lives completely.

This form of sobriety, even if temporary, is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. A poll of Millennials completed in December 2021 indicated 53% were participating in “Dry January” compared to only 38% in December 2020 and 37% in December 2018. 1 While it isn’t the complete sobriety promoted by AA and other 12 step programs, abstaining from drinking has many benefits, even if just for a short amount of time. 2

What Does It Mean to Be Sober Curious?

People who are sober curious make the conscious decision to change their drinking habits for mental and/or physical health reasons. It’s important for social drinkers to know that even non-alcoholics can have unhealthy habits associated with drinking alcohol. Taking time off drinking can allow you to view your relationship with alcohol with a clear head and provide the opportunity to set boundaries around alcohol that benefit your physical and/or mental wellbeing.

How Does Being Sober Curious Work?

Sober curiosity works for so many because it doesn’t have a strict set of rules. Instead, it is flexible and based on the individual. For example, some people may decide to avoid alcohol for a few weeks or a month, like during “Dry January” or “Sober October.” Others take a whole year to renew their lives away from alcohol.

You can also choose to not set a time limit and decide to abstain merely “for the time being.” No matter which you choose, if you find you are having a difficult time staying sober for the length of time to which you originally committed—or at all—you may want to consider whether you need more help.

If you can’t put down the bottle for more than a month, a week or a day even, it’s definitely time to think about seeking professional help.

Who Is the Sober Curious Movement For?

People in the sober curious community don’t necessarily overlap with those in the recovery community. Most are not likely to identify as an alcoholic, but still choose not to drink for a period of time. A person who is sober curious generally makes the choice to be sober for the physical and mental health benefits. In that regard, sober curiosity can be for almost anyone who is interested in seeing how their mind and body respond to taking time off from consuming alcohol.

While the sober curious community is very welcoming, it may not be for everyone. Those who have serious alcohol disorders, for example, may need to make the decision of being sober a long-term commitment from the get-go. For people with extreme cravings for alcohol, depression, withdrawal symptoms, or other associated conditions related to alcohol consumption, seeking treatment may better suit their needs as opposed to attempting sobriety on their own.

However, it’s worth noting that any time away from alcohol is better than no time at all, and it’s important to encourage any steps a person is willing to take to improve their health—even if that means exploring sober curiosity instead of total abstinence.

What Are the Benefits of Sober Curiosity?

“You don’t have to be an alcoholic to quit drinking.”

No matter what you are hoping to get out of a sober curious journey, you are likely to experience a variety of benefits one you choose to become sober curious.

Benefits to temporarily abstaining from alcohol include:

  • Discovering alternative ways to ease stress and tension
  • Increased energy
  • Weight loss
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved likelihood to reducing long-term alcohol intake
  • Better mood
  • Healthier gut function 3

How to Be Sober Curious

Sober curious people often have the same goals as those in the recovery community, but their approach can differ significantly from traditional alcohol rehabilitation programs. Just as the duration of your sober curious journey is flexible, so is the plan for how to reach your destination.

You may choose to set boundaries at first, such as avoiding heavy-drinking environments like bars and parties or distancing yourself from acquaintances with whom you often drink. Others enjoy exploring the new hobbies that replace the time spent drinking and will immerse themselves in the sober curious community in person or on social media.

Here are a few ideas for you to try: 

Explore New Hobbies and Wellness Routines

Depending on how much time you spend drinking, you may find yourself wondering how to fill that time after making the choice to become sober curious. Exploring new hobbies and wellness activities during this time is beneficial for several reasons. Mental health benefits of hobbies include reductions and improvements in several different areas. 4

Reduction in:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Blood pressure
  • Weight
  • Heart rate
Improvements in:

  • Overall well-being
  • Social connections
  • Personal development

Many people choose traditional hobbies, such as learning a new art form, sport, or physical activity. Others choose to incorporate wellness practices into their sober-curious lifestyles, such as journaling, meditation, or yoga. If general wellness is a good fit for you, there are a variety of books and apps available to guide you to starting a wellness journey, depending on which practices you’d like to incorporate into your routine.

Benefits of participating in health and wellness practices include:

  • Increased self-knowledge
  • Stronger relationships and connections with others
  • Professional optimism
  • Improved personal health and wellness 5

Invest Time in Neglected Relationships and Interests

Rather than focusing on not drinking, you may decide to invest time and energy into relationships and other interests you once enjoyed now that you have more time on your hands. Make it a priority to check in with friends and family you haven’t spoken to in a while and invest in the relationships that bring you joy that you might have been neglecting. Revisit hobbies you once enjoyed, tackle the puzzle that has been sitting on your shelf, or dust off the guitar in the corner. Reconnect with whoever, or whatever, brings you joy, other than alcohol.

Immerse Yourself in the Sober Curious Community

Before you decide to explore what it means to be sober curious, you might want to explore the sober curious movement a little more. A great way to find out more about both the movement and the community is to immerse yourself into it. There are more and more sober social groups popping up around the country, and a Google or social media search may lead you to one near you. If you can’t find a local group that already exists, consider starting one of your own by putting out feelers in a social media post or putting up flyers advertising a sober get-together.

Immersing yourself in the sober-curious community can also easily be done online with social media accounts dedicated to sober curiosity. By unfollowing accounts that promote drinking and following sober curious accounts, you can surround yourself with like-minded people and reduce the temptation to drink.

Check out sober-curious creators on your favorite platforms:

Instagram

  • @rethinkingdrinking features mocktail recipes, empowering messages, and reviews for non-alcoholic options.
  • @better_life_guy connects with his followers by sharing information about his sober living, as well as creates content that other sober curious people will relate to
  • @happiestsober shares confessions about the negatives of alcohol and encouraging posts that start meaningful conversations between followers.

Podcasts

  • Seltzer Squad: Staying Sober in the City is hosted by two women who discuss topics around choosing sobriety while interviewing sober guests about their journeys to sobriety.
  • Sober Curious is hosted by the author of the book with the same name. The podcast features interviews with guests discussing their relationships with alcohol and how to navigate living as a sober person in a world full of booze.
  • Generation Dry: For the Sober & Sober Curious is centered around mental health and addresses topics and stigmas associated with choosing sobriety.

TikTok

The number of TikTok accounts dedicated solely to sober curiosity is just beginning to rise. Some creators who already touch on the subject frequently or have great resources worth checking out include:

Jim Haggerty, our founder, also recently started his  own sober focused TikTok account

@jameshaggertyrecovery 

He shares stories from his own addiction recovery journey to hope, healing, forgiveness, awareness & change. Check it out!

Tips for “Sober Curious” Success

Being sober curious in a world that sometimes seems obsessed with alcohol can be easier said than done. Each person will experience unique challenges as they begin their sober curious journey but having some plans in place can help to make the adjustment easier.

Here are some tips to help you along the way:

Find Alternative Beverages to Enjoy

Kicking booze doesn’t mean you’re relegated to a life of water and soda. There are increasingly more “dry drinks” becoming available for the sober and sober curious that have great flavor and are fun to drink.

For example, Kin Euphorics, the non-alcoholic beverage with adaptogenic herbs, nootropics, and botanicals that’s at the forefront of the sober curious movement. Bella Hadid, model and friend of ECHO Recovery, became co-founder and partner of Kin Euphorics after first trying a can at a low point in her own journey. She was anxious, had brain fog due to her Lyme disease, and was exhausted from working and traveling constantly. Drinking made her feel even more depleted, more low energy. (As it does for most of us: Alcohol affects the serotonin levels in the brain, which can worsen anxiety.) And to be able to execute on set, she couldn’t be hungover.

When she tried brand’s Lightwave, a calming, stress-relieving alternative to an evening glass of wine (with sparking notes of lavender, vanilla, and passionflower) — that helped her to cut out drinking. Fast-forward two years, and Hadid is now officially a co-founder and partner of Kin Euphorics alongside CEO Jen Batchelor.

Mocktail Recipes Using Kin Euphorics

Create your own “Kintails” using Kin made to mix products. Such as the Kin Classic:

Kintails

Image Credit: kineuphorics.com

Ingredients

  • 2oz High Rhode
  • 0.5oz of lime juice
  • 1.5oz of tonic water
  • 1 lime
  • Edible flower (optional)
  • Cubed ice

Directions 

Pour Kin High Rhode over ice in a highball glass. Add lime juice and stir for 10 seconds. Add a scoop of fresh ice and top with tonic. Serve with a lime wheel and optional edible flower.

Who would miss the alcohol with all this?

Have a Plan For Saying “No”

If you continue living your life as close to normal as possible, it is likely you’ll be offered alcohol at some point. A simple, “no, thanks” should be sufficient, but if it isn’t you may want to have a backup plan in place regarding how to tell people you don’t drink. Simple excuses, such as having to wake up early the next morning or avoiding drinking and driving, tend to work well.

Build a Support System

You don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you’re joining the sober-curious community. Still, consider letting close friends and family know you’re testing the waters of sobriety, and that you would appreciate their support in your efforts. Finding like-minded individuals and immersing yourself in the sober community whether online or in-person can also be helpful.

Track Your Progress

There are several apps available that track progress for general goals, as well as trackers specifically designed for tracking sobriety. Find one that motivates you and keep track of your progress. Celebrate milestones by investing in your hobby or sharing the news with friends and family.

Sober Curious? Just Try It!

Sober Curious

If you’ve been sober curious, the best thing to do is just give it a try. Set a realistic or open-ended goal and reflect on how going alcohol-free makes you feel. Use your clear headspace to determine if you need to set boundaries when it comes to drinking, or if you’d like to continue with a sober lifestyle for the long term.

What do you have to lose? Your next hangover?

 


Resources:

  1. YPulse. (2022). How Young People Are Getting More Sober-Curious, In 2 Charts. YPulse. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.ypulse.com/article/2022/01/11/how-young-people-are-getting-more-sober-curious-in-2-charts/
  2. Luna, K. (Host). (2020, February 1). Sober curious (No. 101). In Speaking of Psychology. American Psychological Association. https://open.spotify.com/episode/3SpD3tCu3t8JwQYp0ja1D7
  3. Whiteman, H. (2016). Going dry for January? How reducing alcohol intake can benefit health. Medical News Today, December 21. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314875.php.
  4. Parkhurst, E. (2021, October 25). How Hobbies Improve Mental Health | USU. USU Extension Publication. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://extension.usu.edu/mentalhealth/articles/how-hobbies-improve-mental-health
  5. Fiona L. Cosgrove, Sarah Corrie & Ruth Q. Wolever (2022) An exploration of personal benefits reported by students of a health and wellness coach training programme, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 15:1, 85-101,  https://doi.org/10.1080/17521882.2021.1890167
Art Therapist Megan Mitts Shares How Art Helps With Recovery

Art Therapist Megan Mitts Shares How Therapeutic Art Processes Help With Mental Health

Art Therapist Megan Mitts

Megan Mitts is an art therapist that focuses on transferring creative coping coping skills for people who may benefit from alternative support for their mental health and recovery. After receiving a Bachelors in Fine Arts from Miami University and wading through existential dread through her 20’s, Megan pursued a Master’s degree in Art Therapy from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. This education empowered her to start using art in a practical way of both working through and supporting her mental health and how to share this insight to support others.

She started Art From Anxiety on social media as a way to be open about ongoing struggles with her mental health, as well as how she uses art to feel better in hopes it will empower and inspire others to get creative and feel better. Through her professional experience working with kids, adults and families with a wide range of emotional needs and in various stages of recovery, she started focusing primarily on developing programming around low-risk, high-reward therapeutic art activities to help others help themselves while giving them tangible reminders of their ability to work through daily stress or setbacks. Megan believes you don’t have to be an artist to create art from anxiety.

We asked Megan some questions to get a better feel for how she feels art can help anyone who wants to work on their mental health. Below are her answers and links to her resources. Be sure to check them out!

ECHO: Thanks for doing this interview with us Megan! Let’s get right to it! What made you want to become an Art Therapist?

Art was always a safe space for me growing up. As a child of divorce diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression in Middle School, art gave me space to both distance myself from overwhelm and better understand the world around me. I also struggled with communication, as far as how to put things into words so others both heard and understood me, while art provided validation without verbal communication. I love art therapy because we can skip over the natural limitations of verbal communication to quickly elicit connection and deeper understanding of ourselves and others using art making processes and imagery.

A lot of adults who identify as helpers are oftentimes providing the support they didn’t receive as a child; to be that person for others they wished they had. My goal is not only to provide support for the people who function, feel and see the world differently, but also for them to feel seen, heard and understood without having to put it into words, and be able to provide that for themselves time and time again.

Art by Megan Mitts, Artist and Art Therapist

Art by Megan Mitts, Artist and Art Therapist

ECHO: How long have you been doing Art Therapy?

I graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 2016 and continued my internship opportunity post-grad, working with a residential facility for eating disorders. Since then I’ve worked with kids and adults who are on the spectrum and/or other emotional and intellectual limitations while continuing to work with eating disorder recovery. It was after years of trying to help people in what felt like a helpless system of health care resulting in a “revolving door” that seems acceptable to insurance providers that I shifted focus to accessible and affordable therapeutic art services in hopes of empowering the artist to cope better.

ECHO: How is art therapy different from art-as-therapy?

Art therapy is art processes presented by a graduate professional in a safe environment conducive to the needs of the client. An art therapist is able to navigate particularly sensitive subjects in consideration of trauma, cognitive abilities or physical modifications and can avoid potential triggers due to extensive training and experience using art materials and processes. Art therapists also focus on processing the creation of art and the product with the client in order to provide closure around exposure to sensitive subjects, so the client is less likely to carry over outside of the session. Someone offering art therapy has an art therapy graduate degree or art therapy certificate to support their masters level psychology degree.

Art-as-therapy, or therapeutic art, are things anyone can do without an art therapist. These are safe art processes for people and professionals to use on their own or in support of therapy. Therapeutic art is great for preventative care, coping and as a support for learning outcomes from ongoing therapy.

ECHO: Tell us more about your brand Art From Anxiety

Art From Anxiety is about normalizing and feeling empowered to work better with our mental health struggles. It started on social media as art products that helped me better understand and manage my anxiety and depression. It was scary using my personal experiences and emotions as a way to put my art therapy education into practice while emphasizing the importance of normalizing mental health struggles while promoting alternative coping, but it felt necessary if I wanted to incur change. When I presented these processes to others in various populations,

Art From Anxiety started as my own journey, but once I started noticing how highly adaptable, low-risk, high-reward and people felt better in spite of their initial doubts I wanted to share more. Now, Art From Anxiety specifically focuses on therapeutic art processes (those things that are safe to do without an art therapist) so that others can empower themselves to feel better with what’s available to them while using values needed for resilience including resourcefulness, acceptance, awareness, perspective, persistence and self-soothing.

ECHO: When you heard about the ECHO Foundation and our mission to help artists in recovery, what made you want to get involved?

I believe that more support for reintegration into life outside of intensive treatment and accessible preventative care for maintenance of recovery could prevent recurring crises for individuals that struggle with mental health. I have been developing services in response to this need for the past 3 years, but ECHO Foundation is the first non-profit organization I’ve come across that truly wants to put all the pieces together in order to make that happen. The people who are a part of ECHO have a desire to support those who deserve a little more than what they currently are provided in this world. People in recovery are our teachers, nurses, care providers, friends, siblings, and neighbors who are trying their best to survive with what’s available to them. ECHO and I both want to help people move from just surviving to thriving through their recovery by offering more of what they deserve.

ECHO: In your experience, how does art help with mental health?

Art is just one of many creative modes for alternative coping. It’s much more than aesthetics and art skills, which can oftentimes deter the adult from engaging with the arts for fear they may not be “good enough.” To challenge that, I like to inform people of a pivotal developmental shift from being process oriented as kids to product oriented as teens into adulthood. This means we were more likely to engage in interests whether we were good at them or not because we enjoyed them and the outcome didn’t matter when we were young. As teens, we shift to limiting our efforts by only putting time into things that would provide external value such as income or likes. I share this to encourage people to realign with that child self that did things without judgment because it provided them internal value, and find solace in that aspect of ourselves to support the creation of self-care.

When we make art for art’s sake and give ourselves permission to enjoy the process, we can give ourselves a much needed break while challenging perfection, criticism and judgment; those things that we face all too often that inevitably devalue our ability to enjoy life as much as we could. Once we get over what’s holding us back from creating, we can help our mental health by feeling like a kid, as well as offering safe expression of our emotions so we have less carry over. Art can help us solidify our identity as well as validating our experiences while challenging isolation so we feel less alone. Art also provides the opportunity to shift from problem-focused to solution-focused through externalizing emotions, acceptance, awareness, persistence, perspective, resourcefulness and resolution and a slew of other values for resilience. When we practice and play around in art making, we are providing ourselves tangible reminders of our ability to cope that transfer into real life when facing daily stressors or setbacks.

ECHO: What do you think is lacking in traditional care?

Traditional care tends to focus on providing services when a person is in crisis and until they are deemed “well enough,” which is not determined by the person in recovery or the treatment team but rather by an insurance company’s interpretation of documented progress versus cost. This approach perpetuates the stigma around needing to be “helpless” in order to receive the help we deserve to navigate life. This furthermore perpetuates a fear of therapy and mental health practices so fewer people seek out help because they don’t want to seem helpless or they don’t deserve it because there are people who need help more than them.

If traditional care normalized accessible and alternative support for our mental health then that could prevent someone from falling into crisis or falling back into crisis, promote their ability to maintain and increase the potential to thrive. Considering traditional care’s current focus, it doesn’t seem like that’s what they want for us as a society, to be well and happy individuals.

ECHO: What else can we do to help?

Unfortunately, we can’t create lasting change for a better world with people who are barely surviving. To foster change, we need to first help ourselves. 

Prioritizing oneself doesn’t have to be selfish. When we take the opportunity to make space for our emotions, needs and desires, we are supporting ourselves so we can maintain and possibly grow. When we commit to supporting ourselves as individuals, we have a greater ability to not only be a model for others but we also have more time and energy to better support our loved ones and our community.

ECHO: What’s next for Art From Anxiety?

Art by Art Therapist, Megan Mitts

Art by Art Therapist, Megan Mitts

Art_From_Anxiety has a growing angsty artist community for free content and safe expression through TikTok. For those who would like to advance their creative coping skills, they can become a patron of Art_From_Anxiety to access more in-depth therapeutic art considerations and inspiration based on monthly themes such as mindfulness and gratitude. Art From Anxiety will continue to grow by aligning with like-minded organizations such as the ECHO Foundation, who prioritize the people in recovery by providing more accessible and alternative support.

ECHO: How can the ECHO Foundation partner with Art From Anxiety to bring more events and awareness of the arts to the community?

I want to invite others to create recovery-focused coloring pages to make available for the ECHO Foundation community. Creation of black and white drawings helps release tension while feeling more in control and promoting mindfulness. Scanning those images and making them available online for others to print off and color in offers a starting point that can be less overwhelming than a blank canvas. Coloring promotes mindfulness, while coloring other people’s imagery offers validation for the original artist and the colorer through different perspectives of a shared experience, all through one image. It’s a low-key way to foster a sense of connectedness while creating self-care and it is an exciting starting point for this budding relationship. I’m excited to see how else I can help others create art from anxiety while supporting ECHO’s mission to support those in recovery.

Get Megan’s free Art for Anxiety downloadable coloring pages here:

Download and Print: Look What I Can Do & Where’s My Mind Coloring Page

ECHO: Thanks again for sharing your story with us, Megan. We appreciate you and all you do!

Discover More From Megan and Follow Art for Anxiety: 

Website: https://artfromanxiety.com

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@art_from_anxiety

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/art_from_anxiety/

Look What I Can Do Color Page - Art For Anxiety

Want to share your own coloring pages or do an interview for our site? Contact us! 

Seasonal Depression Awareness

December is Seasonal Depression Awareness Month

The season is here! It’s the season of good tidings and cheer. But, for some, that sentiment is an ironic reminder that it’s that time of the year when we lose daylight, the temperature drops, and something just doesn’t feel right. So, while we’re all aware of the holiday season, not everyone knows about seasonal depression.

Melatonin’s to Blame

Why do we feel down this time of year, despite the holidays? Research leads us to blame an imbalance of melatonin. Melatonin helps us feel groggy, sleepy, and ready for slumber. The rotating hours of day and lack of sunlight “tricks” our bodies to overproduce melatonin. It’s mainly triggered by light, so we’re getting tired earlier and for an overall longer period of time throughout the season.

SAD Looks Like Depression

The clinical name for seasonal depression is SAD (seasonal affective disorder). The symptoms are quite similar to those of depression. But, SAD is cyclical, with its symptoms subsiding with the onset of warmer weather. Oversleeping, a change in mood and behavior, lack of concentration, and potential weight gain are signs of seasonal depression. SAD doesn’t discriminate. It affects seniors, all races, and, along with depression and addiction, targets teens and millennials.

Seasonal Depression

The Good and Bad

The bad news is that there is no way to provide more natural sunlight or warmth to your immediate environment. The good news is that being aware allows for methodical and efficient defense from the winter blues.

Some things to consider:

  • Watch what you eat and limit your intake of carbs and sugary foods to help regulate weight.
  • Fit in activity for at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Channel ways to express yourself.
  • Get outside when you can! Create more reasons to get outside for work, exercise, and play.
  • Consider purchasing a product that specifically targets SAD, such as a lamp to put at your desk at work or room at home.

Emotionally, the season can remind some of us of past trauma, lost family members, etc. Furthermore, those in recovery don’t need additional triggers or temptation, so this time of year can be especially intense. But, anyone is susceptible to SAD because it’s chemically-based. A usually happy, well-adjusted person could be affected. Now you’re aware and better prepared for the upcoming season. Happy holidays!

The Healing Power of Expressive Arts

The Healing Power of Expressive Arts

Managing recovery is anything but a one-dimensional experience. As trying as it can be to manage and treat physical symptoms and behaviors, the reality is, this is far from the only way substance dependency can affect us. Rather, the emotional side of the equation should always be considered — dealing with health concerns is a stressful experience, and it can quickly become psychologically taxing on the affected individual.

Plus, in the case of addiction, these emotional concerns are often the cause of the person’s disorder in the first place. If they aren’t treated alongside the dependency, then it is often far more difficult for the individual to stay motivated and prevent relapse in the long run. Long-term sobriety should always be the goal, even if it’s a lengthy and difficult process to get there.

Unfortunately, if the individual in question is so focused on managing or improving their physical health, it can be difficult to remember to treat the whole self. After all, addiction is a whole-self experience, even if this illness is typically known for the damaging physical effects it can have on an individual. In reality, treatment is rarely a simple procedure. So, it’s vital that the emotional side of battling substance dependency be accounted for as well — this is the only way to truly go about treating the whole person to help improve overall wellbeing and quality of life.

On a positive note, there are several ways to address and care for the impact addiction and recovery can have on our mental health. One of these methods is known as expressive arts.

By involving creative arts in health and healing, the overall experience may grow more manageable, as the individual is better equipped to address and tend to their emotional wellbeing. It can be too easy to neglect this side of the recovery experience — for this very reason, treatment aids such as expressive arts can be an incredibly valuable asset to healing.

What Are Expressive Arts, and What Does ‘Expressive’ Mean in Art?

Music is a Form of Expressive ArtTo preface, keep in mind that “expressive arts” can come in a wide variety of forms. Although visual art forms such as drawing, painting, and crafts are often the first to come to mind, these are far from the only methods of expressive artwork.

Rather, expressive art is a versatile treatment method, with a great deal of flexibility and possibilities. For instance, this form of substance dependency treatment can come in the form of visual arts (such as drawing and painting), music, dance or other forms of movement, written word (including poetry), and drama or other performing art inspired therapies.

Not all traditional art therapy practices fall under the umbrella of “expressive arts,” however. In some art therapy strategies, treatment is addressed from a top-down level. Much of the time, this isn’t the best (or most natural) way to address the issue.

In reality, a bottom-up approach is a far more productive plan of action. By supporting addiction recovery in a bottom-up way, it’s far easier for treatment providers to hone in on the patient’s somatic-sensory experiences, before moving naturally along to their narratives and emotions. Within the brain, this means that we are focusing on the lower brain, before shifting over toward the patient’s higher and limbic brain.

Through expressive arts, it’s possible for individuals in recovery to tune into their own embodied and sensory experiences. Expressive art is far less about creating “art” that’s intended for the viewing pleasure of outside parties.

Instead, providing the individual with an outlet of expression is the top priority — so, there’s no reason that they have to be “good” at creating art, or have any prior experience doing so. Anyone can utilize creative means to express and release a buildup of thoughts and emotions.

The Health Benefits of Expressive Arts for Wellness

As we’ve mentioned, expressive arts offer a variety of healing benefits to those in recovery from substance dependency. However, more specifically, what are some of the benefits patients can expect to see? Here’s just a few of them:

Lowering Stress Levels

In addiction recovery, stress is a vital factor to address — for a number of reasons. For instance, recovery, itself, is often a stressful experience for the individual. It isn’t easy to work your way out of a substance dependency due to the physical or psychological addiction as well as the emotional strain of getting to the root of the issue. In either case, stress is an expected response for the patient to undergo.

Much of the time, stress is one of the core reasons an addiction develops in the first place. Many individuals in recovery from substance dependency developed their addiction as a result of stress or difficulties within their lives.

In recovery, it’s important that the root cause of the dependency is addressed and resolved — if this doesn’t occur, then the patient will be far more susceptible to relapse after they’ve exited treatment. Seeing as the goal of recovery is long-term sobriety, this is a far cry from what those in treatment should be aiming to achieve.

Expressive arts are one method to help those in recovery better manage and learn to understand their own stress. These activities are intended to be relaxing for the individuals practicing them due to the emotional release they can provide.

Helping Improve Focus

Art Can Help Improve FocusThrough drawing their attention away from the disorganized or cluttered thoughts in their own head and allowing themselves to redirect their attention into the present moment, expressive arts are useful to help improve focus.

When we’re dealing with emotional complications, becoming trapped in our own heads can quickly lead to issues. Thoughts and anxieties can become overwhelming, and this can make it incredibly difficult to focus on the present moment outside the patient’s own mind.

Expressive arts allow a patient to address their emotions and anxieties in a way that allows them to unravel their thoughts and better focus their own mind. Through participating in expressive art therapies, the patient’s focus is drawn into the current moment as they express and learn to better understand complicated emotions.

Discovering a Sense of Happiness

Additionally, engaging in expressive arts during recovery can improve an individual’s happiness. There’s a great satisfaction that comes with creating something new, whether or not that creation is intended to be enjoyed by others. Even when the art you’ve created is solely to support and help guide your own recovery, it’s natural to develop a sense of pride toward the work you’ve created.

Overall, the cathartic nature of expressive arts can have a positive impact on a patient’s happiness. From the satisfaction of creation, to the emotional release, and so on, expressive art therapies have the ability to improve overall happiness during recovery from substance dependency.

Nurturing Emotional Growth

As we begin to better understand our own emotions, it becomes far simpler to grow. During recovery, the emotions you’re experiencing can feel confusing, or even overwhelming — this can make it difficult to better understand your own mind, which is a necessary step to achieving emotional growth and development.

Providing Social Benefits

Additionally, keep in mind that many expressive art therapies are social or collaborative activities. As a result, these therapies can be useful in allowing patients to socialize and get to know their peers in recovery.

Even if someone is struggling to connect with or get to know other individuals in their recovery program, expressive arts provide them with a guided opportunity to do so. Not only is the patient expressing and learning to better understand themselves, but additionally, they’re working through this experience alongside others who understand. As a result, expressive arts are a fantastic way to bring patients together on an emotional level, during recovery from substance dependency.

Other Benefits of Expressive Arts

In addition, expressive arts can help individuals to boost their own immune systems, as well as reduce employee burnout, when utilized in the workplace. The benefits are endless it seems.

What Is Expressive Therapy Used For?

What Is Expressive Therapy Used For?Considering it is a broad and versatile method of treatment, expressive therapy has a wide array of applications. In general, it’s often difficult to verbally express certain thoughts and emotions. This is especially true in instances of addiction, mental illness, or trauma.

Whenever these feelings are left to fester within someone’s own head, they aren’t being unraveled and addressed in a constructive way — instead, they’re only adding to the individual’s suffering. This can make recovery significantly more difficult.

Expressive art therapies allow an individual to release and express their own emotions in a way that often feels more natural. Thus, expressive therapies can help that patient to better connect with their own emotions, making it easier for them to understand and address the root cause of the issue.

Keep in mind that expressive therapies aren’t only useful in instances of addiction or mental health recovery. Rather, expressive arts can also be highly beneficial to those battling physical illnesses, such as cancer. Again, illness isn’t a one-dimensional experience, no matter the condition being addressed.

Even in instances of physical illness, the patient is going to experience stress and emotional repercussions — sometimes, these effects can be severe, and can make the recovery process far more difficult for that patient to manage.

Is Expressive Arts Therapy Evidence-Based?

Although there’s always more research to be done, so far, there’s quite a bit of evidence pointing toward the effectiveness of expressive arts therapy for a variety of health conditions.

For instance, a 2014 literature review on expressive therapies found that several forms of expressive art were useful in helping treat a number of conditions. Music therapy, for example, appears to be especially beneficial in cases of terminal illness, such as cancer and cases of depression, dementia, and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Visual arts therapy shows promise with mental illness as well asthma and even breast cancer. Dance therapy also seems to be beneficial for treating an array of conditions, including schizophrenia, depression, and emotional eating. Finally, drama therapy shows promise as a means to reduce behavioral issues in young students.

Expressive Art and Addiction Recovery

Expressive Art and Addiction RecoveryHere at ECHO Recovery we have a special focus on helping artists in recovery. We know the power art has to help both individuals and communities by allowing us to share stories and connect in new ways.

Unfortunately, treatment is not cheap and many people seeking help for a substance use disorder can’t afford a program focused on art as a tool for recovery. Additionally, many insurance companies don’t pay for art therapy, making it difficult for service providers to include the program.

We hope to change this by helping more individuals find access to art programs and resources. We believe in the healing power of expressive arts. We have seen how art can not only help an individual while in recovery, but for the rest of their lives.

Interested in helping out? You can donate to the ECHO Foundation, volunteer with us, or even become a corporate sponsor. Are you an art teacher, art therapist or artist in or for recovery? Teach an art class. Share your story with us. Create an item for our merch shop. Have another idea on how we can collaborate? Reach out!

We appreciate all of your support in helping us make a difference.

How To Invite Spirituality Into Your Everyday Life

How To Invite Spirituality Into Your Everyday Life

Although it’s hard to give it one definition, essentially, spirituality means concern for the human spirit or soul instead of material things. However, spirituality as a living practice can mean so much more.

Spirituality is a journey, and like many journeys taken in life, everyone’s path can and will be different. For many, comfort and well-being are found through traditional religious law and prayer. For others, there is a greater call to a more personal experience in which there is a fusion of spiritual customs and practices from many different faiths.

Incorporating spirituality into your everyday life doesn’t have to be difficult, it is a journey of practice, dedication, and open-mindedness.

What Does Spirituality Really Mean?

Spirituality is a term that is heard a lot more lately as more people are actively striving to better their interactions with those around them. Spirituality may look different from person to person due to the fusion of different ideas, practices, and understanding. The most common ground of what spirituality means is that it is how you connect with the world and the people within it. Spirituality, when invited into your everyday life, can bring many positive benefits to your health and well-being. Daily spiritual practices, no matter how small, can bring you comfort, help create better lifestyle habits, and set positive intentions for each day.

How Do You Start a Spiritual Life?

How Do You Start a Spiritual Life?Starting a spiritual life doesn’t have to be complicated. Remember, this isn’t about religion, but finding ways to take care of your soul through spiritual practices.

There are many simple spiritual aspects that you can start incorporating into your life. The easiest place to start is by understanding your own emotions, and the ways in which you interact with others. Spirituality begins with setting your intentions for the day and being mindful of what you put out in the world. When it comes to setting your intentions, there are a few major areas where mindfulness can be best practiced.

How To Practice Spiritual Mindfulness:

  • Non-Judgement- Some mistake their spiritual journey as a way to compare themselves to others, or to feel superior to the less mindful around them. This couldn’t contradict the intentions of spirituality more. One way to start your spiritual life is to be mindful of how you interact with others, even when you’re not directly interacting with that person. It is important to strive to give less criticism, compare less, and actively strive to not put others down. Non-judgement begins with understanding that every person is doing their best.
  • Kindness- Much like approaching each day without judging others, kindness is a simple act that can make a world of difference. It is easy to be kind to those you like, but true kindness is demonstrated to everyone, not just those who make it easy. In fact, it is especially important to show kindness to those who are hurtful towards you. Those who hurt you or others around you are often the people who need kindness the most. Setting a daily intention to be kinder is a great step in starting a spiritual life.
  • Compassion- It can be difficult to take a step back from your own emotions and take into consideration the emotions of others. Compassion is the active ability to put yourself in the shoes of others. Compassion means that you can see where a person might be coming from, even if it is different from how you would approach an issue. Give the benefit of the doubt, feel the pain of others, and always choose compassion over resentment.
  • Check Your Anger- A large part of embracing a more spiritual life is understanding the impact your emotions can have on yourself and others. One of the strongest emotions we experience is anger. Anger can rise at any moment. Perhaps you are stuck in traffic, or the lines are long at the grocery store. If little moments in life can make you angry, you may want to take a step back and assess why you are feeling that way. Anger can consume your life, and the most important step in releasing your anger is awareness.
  • Let it Go- Resentment can eat away at you. It is easy to get offended or upset with people. Social media can be a great platform for connections, but it can also be a breeding ground for disagreements and unkind words if not left in check. When you do find yourself upset, it can be difficult to get those emotions in check, and it often feels easier to hold a grudge. Spirituality means that you may not understand the situation you find yourself in, but you understand that in the spiritual world, there is no real difference between yourself and that individual. Take the high ground, truly forgive, and meaningfully let it go.
  • Your Words- While many situations in life may feel like they are out of your control, the control you do possess is in your words. It is easy to blurt out what is on your mind to only regret it later. Mindfulness is a huge aspect of living a spiritual life. When you are conscious of your words, you’ll gain better control and understanding of the situations around you. Word choice can impact your ability to be kind, compassionate, and non-judgmental.
  • Truth- Being conscious of your words, showing compassion, and all these other elements doesn’t mean that you can’t be genuinely you, or that you must refrain from being completely true to yourself and others. Social media and other platforms allow many to not like their most authentic life, when comparing it to others. To embrace spirituality is to embrace yourself. Be authentic and speak the truth, even when it is difficult. You should be your authentic self, regardless of what others may think or feel.
  • Generosity- One common theme that connects traditional religious practices and newer senses of spirituality is the ability to be genuinely generous. This is the ability to give unconditionally while also expecting nothing in return. Generosity doesn’t have to be physical or material. Giving your time and attention may be all it takes to change someone’s day for the better.

As you can see, starting a spiritual life doesn’t have to be complicated. It starts with your daily intentions of how you want to approach the world. Taking a moment to focus on being more kind, to show compassion, to interact without judgement, are all amazing ways to start down your spiritual path.

It begins with you.

Simple Spiritual Practices

Simple Spiritual PracticesInviting spirituality into your life can also include some simple activities anyone can try. Your mindset plays a major factor, but so do the activities you participate in throughout your day. There are numerous spiritual activities for self-care that don’t require a lot of time but can ultimately greatly benefit your day-to-day connection with your spirituality.

Some of these activities include:

  • Physical Meditation- How you physically connect to yourself and the world around you can look different for everyone. You don’t want to visit a temple or perform a complex ritual to build your spirituality. Nature in general is a great way to connect to the world and find peace in all the hustle. Sunshine is therapeutic and can create a more positive outlook within just a few minutes. You may be someone who enjoys a good walk. Walking with purpose can be a spiritual practice. It allows you time to clear your mind and reconnect with yourself. Yoga is another popular physical activity that ties together your body and mind.
  • Start Your Day with Intentions- Before you get swept up in your daily activities, it is important to take a moment for yourself. A small reflection or prayer can help focus your mind on how you want to interact with yourself and others that day. This moment can look different for everyone. This could be meditating, repeating affirmations, or listening to a guided contemplation. Taking the time in the morning allows you a chance for introspection within yourself and set your intentions for the day.
  • A Daily Commitment- It is important that you work your spiritual goals into your every day. Developing a strong spiritual connection to yourself and others will take time. It may also not feel easy at first. Dedication to your spirituality is important. You will have good days, and bad, but building your spirituality can help you to find comfort in those moments you once dreaded or felt lost. Finding meaning and meditation in your everyday life can be a great starting place. Celebrate the small things and find joy in the mundane.
  • Take the Time- Some days it may feel impossible to achieve everything you had hoped to do. This can lead to stress and all-around negative emotions that can flood into your mind and impact your interactions with others. It is important to take time for yourself throughout the day, even if it is just a few minutes at a time. Research has proven that taking breaks at the workplace can help improve your performance, and overall wellness. There is no reason why this practice can’t be applied to other areas of your life. Find moments throughout the day to take a break. Go out into the sunshine, take a deep breath, and reaffirm your earlier established intentions.
  • Connect with Others- One of the greatest pulls of traditional religious practices is the sense of community. When you find others who strive for the same things as you, you will find more positivity in your life and the way you connect with others. Connectivity is key to building and sustaining your spiritual journey. In a world where we are seemingly more connected than ever, many still feel isolation and disconnection. Meeting like-minded people who share the same values can help you along on the foundation of your spiritual journey.
  • Count Your Blessings- This seems cliché, but it works as a powerful reminder that you can overcome obstacles that may have once stopped you in your place. Spirituality is largely about overcoming the negativity in your life. Some days, this may be hard to do. Reflecting on the good people or things in your life can help lift you out of a mindset that once brought you down. Remembering the good in the midst of the bad can alter the way you handle situations when things get rough.

These simple spirituality practices can help you on your journey of self-improvement and mindfulness. Your path is unique to you, and you’ll find what works best. What matters most is the commitment to embrace change while also understanding you’re a work in progress. Don’t let any missteps or shortcomings define your journey. Sometimes the smallest steps in life can take you the furthest.

Connect With Others To Invite Spirituality In

Connect With Others To Invite Spirituality InSpirituality is all about focusing on growing positivity in a world filled with negativity. It’s about taking care of your mind, body and soul. It’s knowing that you can’t take care of yourself or others if you don’t include spirituality in your quest for health and wellness.

Spirituality is a unique journey, and it begins with you. Daily spiritual practices have been proven to have numerous positive benefits on your overall health and well-being. And, a higher level of spirituality can create stronger bonds within yourself and with others.

Spirituality is all about how you connect with the world, how you appear in the world, and how you treat those around you.

Discover How Performing Arts Helps With Mental Health

Discover How Performing Arts Helps With Mental Health: An Interview With Dr. Bob

Meet Robert “Bob” Willenbrink, Ph.D. We met Bob online through our connections in the local arts. Bob is the Executive Director for The Maryland Center for the Arts and first contacted us when he learned about our Art Corner and plans for future Art Events in the Baltimore, Maryland area.

His friends call him Dr. Bob and, since we’re all friends, we invite you to call him Dr. Bob too!

Dr. Bob is a storyteller. He loves telling stories because they allow you to share your thoughts and your feelings and they bring you joy! And, he thinks one of the best ways to bring joy to stories is to add music to them. So, he wrote a song to share his own story with you.

You might not know him yet, but after the song we think you’ll know him a little better.

Listen to Dr. Bob joyfully share his story with you through music in his video:

More About Dr. Bob and Performing Arts

As you can see (hear!), Dr. Bob has been on quite the journey! He holds his Ph.D. from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

He was the Founding Dean of the School of Fine Arts at Missouri Western State University. Most recently he was the Department Head and Producer/Director for Missouri State’s Equity Tent Theatre, before moving to Maryland and joining The Maryland Center for the Arts.

Dr. Bob began his career in the arts back at Hazard (Kentucky) Community where he founded the Hazard Summer Playhouse and served for many years as Chair and Director of Theatre at the University of Central Arkansas. During his time there he also created the Youth Theatre of Central Arkansas, was the national director of the ARC Performing Arts Institute for disabled artists, and founded ACTS, a theatre performance troupe for disabled performers.

Additionally, he served as chair of Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region VI, the Kentucky Humanities Council board, a director and first vice-president of the Jenny Wiley Theatre, and as the artistic director for the Kincaid Regional Theatre.

He has directed over 85 different live productions of various styles at a number of venues in the United States.

He received the Kennedy Center Bronze Medallion for Service and the Distinguished Creative Production Award at Morehead State University.

He’s had a pretty amazing career, right?

How the Performing Arts Helps With Mental Health

Dr.BobWe sat with Dr. Bob to learn more about his amazing life and career, hear his thoughts on how performing arts can help with mental health and how we can work together to help more people discover the healing benefits of the arts.

Here is our interview with Dr. Bob.

Enjoy!

ECHO: Thanks for doing this interview with us Dr. Bob!

Dr. Bob: You are more than welcome. I feel like it is a privilege to work with ECHO, a dedicated, caring group and it is an honor to contribute

ECHO: We loved your story. What inspired you to create and share the video?

Dr. Bob: Actually I wrote the first version of the song several years ago. I used to introduce myself to the students in the classes that I taught. Of course it has evolved as I have grown and changed. The tune is similar but the words and thoughts have changed as the audience changed and my life has changed. It remains a great way to tell my story.

ECHO: Can you tell us more about The Maryland Center for the Arts and what you do there?

Dr. Bob: The Maryland center for the Arts is an organization whose  mission is to provide a broad range of creative and collaborative experiences in quality education, presentations, and exhibits in all disciplines of the arts; and to build and operate a visual and performing arts center for the region to have greater access to quality spaces to exhibit, present, and participate in the arts.

ECHO: When you heard about the ECHO Foundation and our mission to help artists in recovery, what made you want to get involved?

Dr. Bob: I have worked with other groups and was co-founder of a group calle ACTS or Acting Creates Therapeutic Success. When I heard about ECHO, their goals and mission seemed similar to ACTS and my vision, so I thought I might be able to contribute in some way.

ECHO: In your experience, how does art help with mental health?

Dr. Bob: Absolutely. The arts are a way to open the mind and the heart. To think, to feel, to express your thoughts and ideas. It opens doors to communication with others. One of my favorite thoughts is that the arts lead us to discovering truths about ourselves.

ECHO: Do you feel performing art is therapeutic?

Dr. Bob: Without a doubt. The arts have the power to transform us. Art enables you to explore yourself and your feelings and understand the world around you. Expressing yourself through performing is a way to forget about your troubles and share with others. It speaks from the heart to the heart and helps us understand what it means to be alive and more importantly what it means to be human.

ECHO: Have you seen a change in our community through art programs?

Dr. Bob: The arts change all communities by engaging the people around us, friends. They educate and inspire all of us. It is a way for diverse communities to be inclusive and celebrate creativity and motivate each other to become better people and stronger communities.

ECHO: What’s coming up next for Maryland Center for the Arts?

Dr. Bob: We are working on several Projects including a Bluegrass Festival, TREES a camp for young people to learn about Trees and flora and turn that knowledge into a performance and art work, the Bayside dance Festival in August and then the Plein Air painting festival in September, the Step out dance party in October, and the Rejoice Choral Festival in December. So, as you can see, we are very busy at the Center.

Here is a link to the Maryland Center for the Arts website where you can view up and coming events: http://www.mdcenterforthearts.org

ECHO: How can the ECHO Foundation partner with Maryland Center for the Arts to bring more events and awareness of the arts to the community?

Dr. Bob: The ECHO Foundation can encourage people to attend events and participate as an audience member. If ECHO wants to form a performing troupe, we should partner and develop a first class experience for performer and audience. I am ready and willing.

ECHO: Is there anything else you want us to know about your story and how the arts have helped you in your own life?

Dr. Bob: I have always been interested in the arts. They are my release when I am stressed, my comfort when I am sad. Most importantly, it helps me celebrate the good things and people in my life. The arts are important to me leading a happy and productive life. They inspire and motivate me every day.

ECHO: Thanks again for sharing your story with us, Dr. Bob. We appreciate you and all you do!

Art Allows Us To Be In The Moment

As Susan Cook, Director of UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music said:

“Engaging with the arts… provides solace, awakens curiosity and allows us to be in the moment with our thoughts and feelings. It reminds us of our essential humanity and so often brings us the kinds of beauty so necessary in times of struggle.”

If you want to share your story with us or get involved in some way, please reach out! We rely on donors, volunteers and community support to keep our cause going. Every little bit helps!