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.

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!

Art in Recovery

Why We Support Art in Addiction Recovery

When we started the ECHO Foundation in 2014, our mission was to provide housing support for those in recovery and beyond. This meant fundraising and asking for donations in order to provide scholarships for sober housing and things like basic necessities to individuals who need financial support while in long-term recovery and while in transitional care.

As a non-profit we rely on donations, and without a major grant or big donor, our cause is solely supported by our Board of Directors. We realized with time that supporting local sober housing and providing scholarships would required a lot more financial donations. So we brainstormed other creative ways we could still support the addiction recovery and sober community, but could give back in other ways.

Art for Recovery Was Born

Art moves us and allows us to make sense of the world around us. It gives dimension and color to our lives, and can teach us in different ways. Art can be a powerful way to connect with humanity. It is one of the most expressive forms of communication.

As a tool for those struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, art can be a way to express trauma, pain and emotions in an entirely new way.

For those who struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, often times their initial use started as a form of self medication. As a way to deal or cope with pain. Unfortunately, numbing thoughts and emotions might seem to work for a while, but we all know trauma requires work to face and overcome, and often times the individual needs professional care in order to identify the issue and address the cause at the root.

Self-medicating is never a means to an end. It’s always a temporary “fix” and often has dire consequences.

So, why are more people not seeking professional care for their addictions and mental health concerns?

There are many reasons why individuals don’t seek help, some are:

  • Stigma – with so many built in stereotypes and misconceptions around mental health issues, the stigmas are deeply rooted in our society and culture. Event the media depicts substance abuse in a way that causes those that struggle with it to feel shame and embarrassment, making it hard to speak up and ask for help!
  • Financial – we all know that healthcare in America is expensive. Even those that can afford a decent health insurance plan find themselves unable to afford expensive out-of-pocket costs, especially when it comes to mental health care which often times isn’t even covered by the provider. A private addiction treatment facility can charge $20-50K per month. No wonder so many think they simply can’t afford care!
  • Accessibility – in metropolitan areas you might find several treatment centers offering varying levels of care right in your own zip code. However, for many in more rural areas, the right care just isn’t available to them in their own town. Someone who needs outpatient care might find themselves driving an hour for a one our class or meeting, hardly practical for someone who also needs to take care of life outside of care.
  • Misinformation – beyond the misconceptions that still create so much stigma today, a lot of misinformation exists in outdated texts and old websites and blogs that cared more about using marketing messaging to get more leads than actually educate their users with legitimate information and resources. It’s no surprise people are confused about substance use disorder and how and when to get care when sleezy marketers have controlled the narrative for so long.
  • Lack of support – let’s be honest, deciding to enter care is HARD. It’s a big commitment both financially and mentally. I can’t even imagine someone in active addiction being able to lift themselves out of the fog long enough to make the choice to go to rehab without some sort of support. Sure, the individual has to want to go to care, but they also need family, friends, a counselor – someone to care about them, listen to their concerns and support them on their journey. Not everyone has that.

Art and Mental Health

As you can see, in today’s society, there is a heightened risk of mental health decay due to the onslaught of negative social impressions, spread by entertainment media and viral visibility social platforms create. For those who want to remove drug and alcohol dependency from their lives will find that, even after treatment, maintaining their mental health and avoiding triggers is a challenging, ongoing task.

Never has it been more important to spread awareness about the importance of mental health and advocate for more tools to not only help those in recovery, but their families, loved ones and the communities they live in.

Art is a way to way to reconnect with old passions or even discover new talents we didn’t even know we had. And, perhaps even more importantly, art therapy helps the individual find new ways to express their emotions and heal from their past.

How amazing is that?

Addiction Can Happen to Anyone

Many people who have been caught up in drug or alcohol abuse have self-medicated to forget their pain, or, at the very least, numb its impact. Others’ addiction may have been circumstantial. For example, athletes after injury or anyone who had undergone surgery were prescribed opioids to relieve pain. We now know that opioid addiction can occur in as little as five days of use. No matter how a person develops a substance use disorder, there are similar results embedded in the process affecting each victim of the disease.

People

Emotional Response and Rescue

Over time and ongoing toxicity from drug and alcohol intake, emotional balance declines. During active addiction, as well as during the withdrawal process, the body and the brain are desperately trying to reset to homeostasis. But without a proper medical detox, clinical and therapeutic care, true recovery can be a losing battle.

People under the influence of a chemical on a consistent basis will enact inappropriate responses to their environment and social situations. Mood swings, erratic behaviors, and impulsivity are common. Anxiety, depression, and reactive moments are common and may even be the symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder.

All of the above are repercussions from the misappropriation of the human “fight or flight” response that drug and alcohol addiction hijacks. As such, an individual can easily overreact to an everyday situation, compounding their problem and making it near impossible for social interaction and the ability to forge healthy relationships.

Exercising creative expression through art is a non-invasive way to put emotions back into place and begin to heal.

Art in Recovery - Painting

Self-Expression in Art Eases the Effects of Trauma

If you were to take a cross-section of people in addiction treatment and pinpoint the exact root cause for their affliction, you’d find that trauma is often the underling issue that lead to the substance abuse in the first place.

Painting

Through therapeutic treatments, clients learn how to access their emotions and get more comfortable with them. From there, understanding the why about emotional responses helps to better moderate and manage them when they arise. It’s often a painful and challenging process that fuels negativity and the resurgence of agonizing memories.

By introducing art therapies, often times the individual can take a mental break from the racing and irrational thoughts that present each day and put their emotions into a form that doesn’t always require words. Through a paint brush, ink pen, charcoal pencil or the gentle maneuvering of clay, art becomes the expression of emotions that words cannot explain. In essence, art in process does the talking without speaking a word.

The Inner Voice Needs a Healthy Outlet

People, at our core, are made of energy. Some of us naturally have more energy than others. Endurance athletes are a prime example; stage performers carry similar characteristics. After addiction has taken hold of a person, the connection between owning personal emotions and then communicating them to others is lost. Without a way to deal with emotions, mental health is always in flux and at the mercy of what a person can control or not.

Considering that life is full of the unexpected, having an outlet for emotional expression and an overabundance of energy is vital to overall wellness and avoiding potential triggers for drug relapse.

Art therapy provides a path to connecting with ones inner voice and can be a tool for those who need something to turn or help sustain their sobriety, long after professional treatment has ended.

Discovering Hidden Talents Can Heal

Carrie shares her personal story about growing up with an alcoholic mother:

“I never thought of my mother as an artist. In fact, it was the family on my father’s side that always comprised the creative individuals of my name’s sake. Until I visited my mom while she was doing a 30-day rehab stint some years ago and she shared her paintings with me. Then I realized there was a whole different side of her that I never knew. But the discovery went much deeper than that. She was saying things through her art, telling us stories we had never heard before about her life. It was touching, powerful and eye opening.”

“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.” – Stephen Sondheim, American composer

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“Her paintings were simple but complex.” Carrie continues, “Looking back on my mother’s art in her own recovery, I believe it was truly representative of who she was as a person and why she was misunderstood. Her relationship with my father was based on her enabling his behaviors, much to the detriment of her self-esteem, personal worth, and the blossoming of any aspirations she may have held.

She was the support network for everyone else. Creativity was left to my father and his work. Mom was never given the opportunity to be heard through artistic self-expression. Until time in addiction rehab for a co-occurring disorder opened the door for her. Seeing her visual impressions on canvass in watercolors that blended haphazardly from left to right, it was bittersweet. I was happy to see her, the artist I never knew existed, yet sad that so much time had lapsed in her life before it came to fruition.”

Art Therapy Encourages Sharing and Expression

Professional Art Therapy for addiction recovery is normally done in a group setting where clients can learn to focus on their work while in the presence of others.

Are Therapy is not limited to painting and drawing, however, there are many forms of art. Some other types of art used therapy are:

  • Dance
  • Music
  • Theater
  • Sculpture
  • Collaging
  • Coloring
  • Story writing
  • Photography

Art therapy is more than an emotional outlet; it’s a manifestation of a person’s inner being. There’s beauty in that, and often inspires a person to delve further into their artistry, while helping others step outside of the fear of judgment to begin exploring art therapy for themselves.

sculpting

Why Addiction Treatment Should Include Art

There is science behind the inclusion of art during addiction treatment. An article in Psychology Today points to the following benefits of art therapy that align with human needs during the recovery process:

  • Self-expression and learning how to just let life flow
  • No judgment or shame
  • Reconnecting with self, regulating emotions
  • Providing purpose while coping with loss
  • Helps with socialization and promotes playfulness
  • Empowers other abilities
  • Allows personal healing and shared healing

How Art Impacts Community

Beyond the obvious benefits of art for individuals in recovery, it’s obvious all of us could use more art in our lives. Not only could we all benefit from self expression and the therapeutic benefits that come from practicing art, using art as a platform to tell a story is a powerful way to connect with others in the community. Although the conversation around addiction has opened up in recent years, there are still so many who are hiding in the shadows, living with guilt, shame and all of the other stigmas that surround their disease.

By sharing their stories. By giving them a platform. By offering the public a look into the reality of mental health and substance use disorders WE can make a difference.

Through art we can reach people who may have not taken the time to understand the growing issue we have in America around mental health. We can take back the narrative and provide a new way for the public to see how addiction impacts us all.

The ECHO Foundation Supports Artists in Recovery

As ECHO continues our mission to support artists in recovery, we’re working as an organization to further our reach so we can help more people and give back in bigger ways.

In 2019 we started what we thought would be our first ANNUAL ECHO Recovery Art Show and Open Mic Night. And, thanks to ECHO Board Member, Jennifer Nilsson, we did have our first ever ECHO Recovery Art Show!

Art Show

However, as 2020 took us into isolation and all in-person meetings and events were cancelled, so were our plans to host our second annul show.

Now that things are starting to open back up again we’re hopeful that we can resume our art for recovery show and continue to serve the community through future art focused shows and events.

But, just like so many others, we were forced to look for new ways to connect with those we are here to serve. So, we decided to dive deeper into our online educational tools and resources and reach out to our contacts to ask others to join us in our efforts. In addition to our art for recovery blog posts and stories from artists,  we’re working on partnering with artists, teachers and art therapists to create and share art classes online!

We’d love it if you join us in our efforts to support individuals in recovery and help end the stigma around mental health so those that need help can get it. Donate to our cause, Volunteer, or Become a Corporate Sponsor if you want to help us make a difference!

 Together we can make an impact and change the way people see and treat mental health issues.


Editors note: We originally published this article on Aug 8, 2019 and decided to republish the post with a new date of June 25, 2021 after editing and updating the content.

Meditative Painting to Heal Your Life

Meditation has become more and more popular over the years. People have started to take a closer look at themselves and how to better themselves mentally as our world progresses.

Unfortunately, as we advance in technology and our information systems get better, we come to know more about this sometimes crazy and unfair world we live in. It’s important then that we find ways to calm our minds and fight against depression, anxiety, and other strong emotions.

So, how do you stay positive?

If you want to create an atmosphere of calm in yourself it’s important that you look within. Meditation and finding harmony are fantastic ways of promoting healthy mental activity in your day-to-day life.

Heal Your Life With Creative Art-Making

There are many different types of meditation. Most people have probably heard of trance and focus meditations — but creative art-making meditation has recently become increasingly popular. Meditative art-making is a variation of the normal meditative process. Unlike standard meditation that focuses on the self-release of your negative emotions through guidance or conscious submergence into your psyche, meditative art-making emphasizes harmony using art and your creativity as a medium. It’s a form of expression that can be used to push your hard emotions out onto paper so you can better envision them.

Creativity has long been seen as a type of healing act. Therapists and health professionals have been studying and using art as a medium for treating psychological disorders for years. Painting, drawing, or any other type of art where your creativity can shine makes it significantly easier to express yourself. As many of us are constantly under pressure to be or act a certain way, it becomes easier to use creativity in art as a medium for communicating with our emotions. Self-reflection is not an easy or comfortable process as we have many things in our life that we may rather forget about than dwell on. But, internalizing these feelings can stress us and cause long-term effects on our overall health.

The Process of Meditative Art-Making

The Process of Meditative Art-MakingMaterials you will need before you begin:

  • A canvas of some kind
  • Drawing or Painting tool
  • A quiet place to relax, with adequate lighting

If you are painting, you should also prepare a place to clean your brushes with water and have some watercolors, acrylics or other paints.

After you have your materials on hand, envision what your stressors are and consciously submerge yourself in them. It’s important that you know why you need to get rid of these thoughts and put them into tangible things. This step is crucial — because when you make your stressors into tangible objects, it becomes easier to release them. Once you have an image in your mind, paint or draw, focusing on the colors and object that you envision your stressors to be in. As you are painting, you should focus on releasing your stress, creating harmony as you paint, and letting go of all your stressors.

The bottom line is getting your negative thoughts onto paper and out of your head. We internalize so much emotional baggage that we tend to forget that we need to let go. The human mind was not structured to handle copious amounts of stress. As a result, when our stress levels get high, our bodies — both physically and mentally — start to go haywire. This is where meditation comes in to help you express yourself in creative environments. Holistic healing with art meditation gives you the power to harness your creativity into a positive source of encouragement for you and those around you.

Other Types of Creative Meditation

Expressive Movement for Addiction RecoveryThere also are other forms of creative meditation besides painting and drawing. Since creative meditation centers around using a medium that you can express your creativity through — anything that can be considered a creative action can be done in place of painting.

Some common examples of other creative meditation include:

  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Expressive movement
  • Music
  • Writing

All of these forms of expressing creativity can be used to meditate. No matter which medium you choose, the idea of using creativity to express your subconscious issues remains.

“To find the best ideas you have to go deep within yourself. To do this I practice Transcendental Meditation twice a day, every day, and by doing so I believe it keeps the ideas coming.” — Oliva Locher, photographer

Benefits of Meditation

There are many, many benefits to meditation. Self-reflection in a controlled environment lets you target key things that you don’t like and work them out yourself. It can be a permanent solution to dozens of difficult emotional states that people have to deal with every day. Depression that is caused by negative thoughts and anxiety is one of the more popular emotional stressors that influences people to seek out solutions. Thankfully, meditation has been shown to be effective in varying degrees at helping people work out their mental dilemmas. The following are the most common benefits:

  1. Reduces stress. Stress is one of the most common reasons for people to meditate. Having high stress in your life puts you at higher risk of health complications as hormones and other parts of your body are negatively impacted. Meditation can help reduce the high levels of cortisol that stress produces which promotes healthy sleeping, lessens depression, decreases blood pressure, and reduces inflammatory issues.
  2. Controls anxiety. Anxiety and stress go hand-in-hand. High levels of anxiety promote stress and increase your body’s susceptibility to hormonal imbalances. Relieving your anxiety through meditation by creating a calming environment can promote healthier levels of stress.
  3. Promotes emotional health. Positive reinforcement of any kind can lead to improved self-image. We are constantly surrounded by a world that lets us down, time after time. Positive reinforcement, even if it is coming from ourselves, is important in maintaining a healthy emotional state.
  4. Enhances self-awareness. Self-reflection allows you to develop a more conscious awareness about who you are as a person. Meditation lets you target things that bother you and that you want to get rid of, making it a highly effective method of self-reflection.

Furthermore, higher-order brain functions have been shown to improve in practitioners of meditation while low-order functions decrease — whether you have a mental disorder or not. These “high-order functions” are what dictate your cognitive process. Cognition is composed of intellectual function, orientation, attention, judgment, planning, memory, speech and language, complex perception, and decision-making. It does this by putting pressure on your brain’s cognitive function, flexing it like a muscle while you are decompressing and slowly getting rid of thoughts that would normally damage it.

Healing Complex Disorders Through Creative Meditation

Because of the benefits of meditation, complex disorders relating to severe depression and anxiety can be alleviated.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of those complex emotional disorders that has been shown to be alleviated through meditation. Post-traumatic stress happens when we witness, experience, or are involved in a shocking event. During the event, fear triggers an extreme hormonal response in the form of cortisol and adrenaline to forcibly stabilize itself. Once the event is over, our nervous system resets before initiating the recovery process — which can cause you to have a severe emotional or physical reaction if your adrenaline levels were very high. However, there are cases in which our nervous system does not reset, becoming a chronic condition that manifests symptoms of traumatic stress.

These prolonged symptoms are precisely what PTSD is. Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, but for those who do, it can plague them for years — even the rest of their lives. Although PTSD is not pathological and can slowly go away on its own, as we develop resistance to the stress, some people may have extreme reactions that need treatment.

The Symptoms of PTSD

The Symptoms of PTSD

Although the cause of trauma changes between each and every person, people with PTSD experience three primary symptoms:

  • Repeating or reimagining the experience. Intrusive memories, dreams, or imagining the traumatic event over and over again, which prolongs the stress.
  • Individuals usually want to avoid anything that they think would make them remember the event. It could be a place, object, person, or anything else that they fear could make them remember.
  • Tension, anger, irritability, startling easily, or difficulties coping with life events.

Persistent traumas impact the structure and function of the brain over long periods of time. Humans who experience severe traumatic stress often see parts of their brains reduce in function, specifically, in areas that are easily susceptible to environmental threats, such as the hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and left amygdala. Reduced brain function in these areas can cause severe damage to learning ability, emotional processing, nerves, and cognitive function.

Creative Meditation in PTSD Patients

Historically, cognitive psychotherapy — with or without medication — was the go-to treatment for PTSD. But social stigma, cost, guilt, shame, or inability prevents many people suffering from severe stress from seeking the help they need. Mindfulness-based interventions have become an alternative treatment for those looking for help. It’s important to note that not all mindfulness exercises are good for post-traumatic stress relief. Since some forms of meditation rely on looking at the problem again, some people might dig up more severe PTSD symptoms if they do not choose properly.

Art-based or creative-based meditation has a lower impact on the mind than most traditional meditation programs. Through the use of a physical medium, much of the imagination can be channeled into the act of creating art. The person is then distracted enough not to focus on their stress while letting go. Although this can be challenging, repeated use of creative meditations can help mediate serious symptoms from PTSD and other complicated disorders.

Meditation has been shown to reverse the damage that PTSD and severe trauma cases have in their brain. Although it may not guarantee freedom from whatever it is someone is having these traumatic experiences from, it can let them overcome it slowly, in a healthy way.

Can You Meditate Through Art?

Can You Meditate Through Art?The short answer is yes, you can meditate through art.

The process is simple and you can do it so long as your chosen creative medium is at hand. Many people choose to use creativity to fuel their emotions. Using it as a source means you can be much more direct in your approach to meditation. It allows you to think freely while feeling what is truly causing your pain. Art meditation focuses on acceptance and fostering healthy thinking without putting judgment onto yourself.

Here at ECHO we want to connect anyone who is interested in art for recovery by sharing educational information, tools and as many free resources as possible. Visit our Art Corner to see how you can get involved.

Artist Silvia Logi

Get Inspired To Create With Featured Artist Silvia Logi

Meet Silvia Logi. Silvia is self-taught artist from Florence, Italy.

Artist Silvia LogiWe discovered Silvia on Instagram as we were searching for artists to connect with. Her art caught our eye as it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. We had to learn more! So, we reached out and Silvia said she was happy to share her story with us and support our mission.

In her words:

“Helping people recover through art is the best use I can think of. Art is the best medicine that humans have!!”

Sbocciare (To Blossom)

Watch this inspirational video that a crew of young film directors from Tennessee made about Silvia in 2013. They traveled all the way from Nashville to Florence, Italy to meet her in her home and studio to tell her story… which you’ll discover is the story of a self-taught artist that invented her own language, her own process and followed her heart to discover a unique way to express herself through art.

Artist Silvia Logi’s Bio and Story

Artist Silvia LogiI am an Italian artist, born and still living and working in beautiful Firenze (Florence, Italy).

My artistic path began after a very inspiring trip to Barcelona. Immediately after that trip I put together my first technique and started to create in a constant flow. The original idea was to create using natural elements mixed with precious (for me!) recycled objects. I have always remained faithful to this first creative intuition despite the great evolution in technique and materials that has happened over these 14 years of activity.

I love the work I have created because it allows me great freedom of expression by combining the beauty of the natural element with a sense of responsibility for the environment. It helps me to find a balance and harmony within myself too, which I see then reflected in my works as well.

Thanks to social networks and Internet, I made my work known around the world in a few years with the great joy of having sold to places I never imagined. For several years I have also had many requests to teach my various mosaic and assemblage techniques and finally back in September 2018 I moved to a large studio where I can also constantly carry out the activity of workshops for adults and children together with my normal production of art pieces.

Today, I sell directly in my studio, in Art Galleries and online through my website and social page

It’s Never To Late To Start

What I really want to prove to people is that art can start at any time in live. I am proof, I think! I started at age 35 as a small-town woman with a husband and two kids. Today I am still all of these things, but I am also an artist.

Art is waiting for you, for you all, at any stage of life. I really think it’s never too late to begin… and I hope you will.