Art therapy can be an important tool if you live with a chronic pain condition. It helps with stress relief, emotional resilience, supports cognitive functions and enhances confidence in one’s own abilities and thoughts.
I’ve always been into the arts. One of my strongest memories I have as a kid is sketching my Disney VHS covers and recreating it on paper without tracing. Once I completed them, I would feel so incredibly proud showing my parents my artwork.
My parents picked up on that and got me into a water colour painting class. I enjoyed it and learned a lot but apparently sleeping in Saturday mornings was more important to me at the time, so I eventually quit. I continued painting on my own, but as the years went on and I hit my teenage years, I became to lose confidence and stopped. Looking back now, it coincided with the time I started to develop my pelvic pain.
Since becoming disabled, I’ve gotten back into art because not being able to work (I was a designer, where got to be creative every day) has deprived me of a creative outlet and ultimately a sense of accomplishment. So when I finally finish a painting (it can take me months due to my flare ups 🤦🏻♀️), it gives me back a sense of purpose and achievement.
Below is a recent piece that I completed for my boyfriends parents along with some process shots.
And here it is in their living room:
They requested something large and abstract for their living room but I’ve never painted anything larger than a 16×20 canvas and have little experience in abstract.
I was absolutely terrified but I took the chance and went for it and I am so glad that I did! I learned a lot in the entire process that I can relate back to my every day life with chronic pain. Being in the zone on the good pain days, allowed me go with the flow and follow my intuition, which ultimately lead to the completed piece that I am proud of .
Art therapy gives me the tools to cope with my chronic pelvic pain.
I know you came here for the how and why, so let me explain….
Art therapy is all about making the experience of painting or creating something, more important than the outcome. The main goal is to go all in without the doubt or concern about your talent or skill. This process allows you to break the chains and go beyond where you thought you could go.
So how does the art therapy process help someone through chronic pain?
Well, I’ve narrowed it down to 2 things…
1. Letting yourself be led by instinct and intuition when painting rather than grasping for control or attempting to plan…
is a good break from the reality that someone with chronic illness lives with. We have to plan our days around what our bodies can or cannot do. We’re always looking ahead to try to prevent the next flare up. We tend to plan for the worst but hope for the best (most of the time…).
Here is just one of example of our many thoughts rambling through our minds:
Want to go to your best friends wedding this weekend? Well, you better rest 3 days prior and don’t exert yourself or eat anything off your diet or else you may trigger a painful flare up this weekend.
I can personally say that I’ve never been more organized and proactive than I am now that I live with chronic pain. Every move or thing I do has to be calculated now that I am ill. So painting without a plan in place is a good mental release of my day to day thoughts.
I’m not saying we should not ever plan in order to feel better because I do believe you have to be organized to advocate for your health, but time to time it is a much needed mental break.
I unfortunately learned that the hard way but by doing so, it ultimately led me to come up with a way I could keep myself on track and possibly help others in the same boat!
Do you need help organizing all of your medical paperwork and information?
These Medical Binder Printables I created can help you do just that!
2. The personal growth you endure while being present in the moment while painting.
Art therapy invites us to practice being still and to let go of our anxieties. We are taught at our pain management classes that using mindfulness and meditation as a tool, can lower the ‘volume‘ of our pain. So if painting can help your conscious mind get you into the present moment; it should have value, right?
Practicing being in the present moment and letting go of expectation is something I personally struggle with, along with many other chronic illness warriors. Thoughts of, “my body should just know how to work” and “I should be excelling in my career, not laying here with the heating pad.” circle our minds. Ultimately, when you’re fighting against your body every day, it takes a toll on your confidence and sense of self.
The unpredictability of our conditions deters us from staying in the present moment and amplifies the feeling and emotions of not having control of future outcomes. We fear the unknowns in life because we just can’t see another perspective due to the pain holding us back and being let down, constantly.
So what does art therapy teach us about being present when living with chronic pain?
By taking the chance on the colour that calls to you; the random placement of the brush on the canvas or paper; the shape or the image that wants to come to life, you are learning to stay present in the face of whatever comes your way, good or bad. Which can be extremely relevant and absolutely transferable to the emotional obstacles you face every day when living with chronic pain.
Accepting imperfection can lead to more compassion.
Not expecting your painting to turn into a masterpiece, by letting go and seeing where it takes you, opens you up to a new perspective once its complete.
It will turn out. It always does, and you will be proud of yourself. I promise!
Relation to Chronic Pain: Accepting your circumstances and being more kind and proud of yourself when living with a chronic illness is not easy, but by taking part in art therapy, it can help you learn techniques to begin to be kinder, more gentle with yourself.
Risking vulnerability opens the door to breakthrough and beauty.
One misconception when it comes to art is that you have to feel inspired, or have endless ideas or feel really confident in order to be creative. All of this is bull***. Everyone has a creative bone in them. Just by being present and not thinking about what others will think can help you pass this scary part: seeing the blank canvas and not having a clue where to start.
Even the best artists have that feeling; don’t let the fear stop you from creating something beautiful.
By being in the moment and going with the flow of your brush strokes, this process to completion can lead to a moment of surprise, confidence and release. Something many who live with chronic pain, lack.
Relation to Chronic Pain: Feeling vulnerable and comparing yourself to others can stop you from trying something that could potentially help you. For example, trying a new treatment that you avoided in the past, may open a door to better pain relief or answers.
Thus, by learning to turn off that judgement through art therapy, someone with chronic pain could benefit from the painting technique when learning how stay present and open to experiences.
Art therapy as meditation in action.
Art offers all of us an opportunity to be in the present moment. It’s a no judgement and doubt zone which teaches us to stay present in the face of whatever is thrown at us.
If painting is not your thing, below are some other activities to practice being in the present moment:
Creating a collage, scrapbooking or a photo book from pictures that are piling up on your devices, can be therapeutic. If you’re anything like me, you keep saying you’re going to print them out to put them into an album or collage, but of course that never happens. But now there are great websites like Blurb.com that are a simple, easy resource to make your own custom photo book with the highest quality printing, design and paper options!
Put together a journal. Journals don’t have to just be based around words. You can make an art journal that lets you visually express your emotions. Check out this creative journal that you can use wet and dry mediums on!
Adult colouring books. Just like meditation, colouring also allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus only on the moment, helping to alleviate anxiety. It can be particularly effective for people who aren’t comfortable with more creatively expressive forms of art, such as sketching or painting.
Below are a few colouring books I would recommend:
- Chalk-Style Good Times Deluxe Coloring Book: Color With All Types of Markers, Gel Pens & Coloured Pencils.
- Swear Word Adult Coloring Book: Fresh Out of F*cks: Laugh your butt off as you colour this hilarious and irreverent colouring book full of swear-y sayings.
- Love Disney? Then this Disney Dreams Collection Thomas Kinkade Studios Coloring Book is the one for you!
Interested in trying painting to help you cope with your chronic pain?
These great products below can help get you started:
Acrylic starter set – This amazing 33 Piece Acrylic Painting Starter Set that has a table easel, acrylic paint, canvas & accessories gives you everything you need to get started on your own work of art.
Just need paint?Check out these 24 colour, non-fading and non-toxic Arteza’s Paint Sets.
Just need a canvas? Check out this inexpensive pack of canvas’ you can practice and play around with!