Art & Anxiety

How art can help alleviate anxiety

Arlésiennes (Mistral) (1888) by Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903)The Art Institute of Chicago

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems effecting people across the world. It is vital to protect our physical and mental health by finding easy and accessible ways to manage our anxiety. Engaging with art could be one of the best ways to do this.

We all experience anxiety. In its natural form it is simply a human reaction to recognising and responding to danger. Short bursts of anxiety can be a good thing. They can help to motivate us to get things done and even spark our creativity.

However, prolonged periods of anxiety can have more negative effects. They can lead to us becoming unwell and, in extreme cases, developing serious disorders. Anxiety like this can be very damaging to both our physical and mental health. 

Irises (Front)The J. Paul Getty Museum

Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh are thought to have suffered from extreme anxiety. Among other mental and physical health conditions, Vincent was diagnosed with a serious anxiety disorder during a stay in an asylum. He also wrote letters to friends that mentioned his ‘fits of anxiety’.

In modern life, anxiety is often caused by a change in our circumstances, uncertainty about the future, things beyond our control, and pressured situations at work. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many new challenges and total upheaval to our daily lives. It has also brought uncertainty about what the future holds for our health, our living situations, and our jobs.

A Night of Love (1985) by Patrick HughesPaintings in Hospitals

During this time of anxiety, we have already seen many people turn to the arts for support. You have probably done so yourself without even thinking about it: watching TV shows, reading books, playing video games, listening to music, taking virtual tours of museums and galleries. We have seen people singing from their balconies and hanging hand-painted rainbows in their windows to express hope and uplift spirits.

“It’s not like we’re maestros…but it’s a moment of joy in this moment of anxiety.” (Emma Santachiara on singing from her balcony)

Georgina (2020) by Jane ClatworthyPaintings in Hospitals

This pandemic anxiety is probably felt most by the healthcare workers putting their own lives at risk on the frontlines of the battle against coronavirus. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that it is “inevitable that once the pandemic is past its peak, there will be an increase in demand for mental health services…” because of “…anxiety or other conditions such as PTSD” (RCP, 2020).  

To Roam by John BolamPaintings in Hospitals

It is vital that we find ways to support carers and help to alleviate and manage this anxiety. While there are many ways to do this, one of the most effective ways is to engage with the arts.

Harbour with Still Life (St Ives) (1999) by Rachel NicholsonPaintings in Hospitals

Viewing visual arts have been shown to offer a number of benefits to both patients and healthcare workers. These benefits have included decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones; reducing levels of depression; and reducing stress, fatigue, and anxiety.

Cottage Garden (1993) by Stephen BowerPaintings in Hospitals

A 2003 study by Dr Rosalia Staricoff found that incorporating visual art into the hospital environment was highly effective in diminishing levels of depression and anxiety. The same study found that 96% of clinicians and 91% of nurses found the integration of the arts into healthcare contributed to a positive working environment, with potential to boost staff morale and decrease burnout.

Christine (2020) by Emma BennettPaintings in Hospitals

With people across the world tentatively returning to work following lockdown. It is important to note that workplaces can be greatly enriched by art. Art is key to creating a work environment that encourages creativity, calms and relaxes, and generally improves wellbeing.

Barges by Daphne BoothbyPaintings in Hospitals

Michelle Dean, an art psychotherapist, says that art can help enhance the quality of a workplace and help build stronger teams. It is the resilience that comes from this that plays a huge part in preventing burnout of employees from stress and anxiety in all sectors.

Roberta (2020) by Pippa Hale-LynchPaintings in Hospitals

“Public art and having quality art in the workplace are about more than just having pretty pictures on the wall; it can be a form of self-help.” (Michelle Dean)

This exhibition not only provide a morale boost and a beautiful tribute to the heroic work and sacrifices of some of our healthcare workers, it could also help to alleviate the  stresses and anxieties threatening their physical and mental health.

Scilly Isles No.1 by Vanessa GardinerPaintings in Hospitals

“A picture in A&E takes me to a different place. I thought Paintings in Hospitals should know that your work not only helps the ill get better, it helps the well stay well.”
Police officer, Glan Clwyd Hospital

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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