This post was written by JKP author Amy Backos. Today is International Stress Awareness Day (November 1, 2023), and to encourage conversations and education around stress and PTSD, we are offering a 20% discount on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Art Therapy with code ISAW20.
When you look around at what is happening in the world, are you feeling stressed, helpless, fearful, enraged? Something else? A heartening way to sooth ourselves and take action towards peace includes a potent combination of gratitude and liberation art offer
Traumas in the News
Watching traumas in the news or hearing about suffering from our friends can elicit a mix of empathy and uncomfortable emotions. Many people watch the news with fear and uncertainty. Meanwhile, those who have experienced significant traumas may be viewing current events with dread and panic. For trauma survivors, images in the news can spark painful memories, sometimes triggering the sensation of reliving their past ordeals. The portrayals in the news may linger as disturbing mental images that can be difficult to manage. These unwanted depictions may turn up in dreams, intrusive thoughts and in excessive worries, fears, anxiety and panic.
Creative expression is a primal means to convey and transform trauma memories.
How does Art Therapy Sooth?
Creative expression offers a powerful, primal method to convey and transform discomfort. Trauma recovery involves transforming problem saturated stories from the past into strength-based narratives focused on the present and future.
Art making and storytelling offer natural and soothing techniques to transform internal distress into empowering healing tales. Neuropsychological research indicates that the verbal centers of the brain are inactive during traumatic experiences. Specifically, traumas are experienced and remembered through the senses, including sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Because of this, we need tools like art, storytelling, and music to bring these vague sensations to the foreground of awareness and ultimately, transform the sensory memories into coherent trauma narratives.
To create a more peaceful internal world, we can turn to creation of soothing imagery to replace the upsetting images of the news and past traumas. Communicating authentic feelings through art provides both psychological distance and perspective on vague, uncomfortable, and traumatic feelings and memories and the tools to transform pain. Instead of suffering alone or venting frustrations, which typically makes us feel worse, we can transform the discomfort by expressing thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations using art and words.
This process clears the mind of old unprocessed feelings and offers both perspective and clarity about choosing more positive feelings and peaceful future actions. Peace in the world when begins with internal peace. Gratitude and liberation art can lead us to a more peaceful inner experience, which offers a significant contribution towards peace.
Where to start? Gratitude
Have you considered gratitude as a powerful healing modality? Cultivating gratitude offers a potent intervention to manage present distress and heal from past traumas. Gratitude pulls our awareness to the good inside of us as well as the good all around us. Cultivating gratitude has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. Furthermore, it can improve sleep and mood, positively impact relationships, boost empathy for yourself and others, and foster a sense of being in the present moment. This last benefit of present moment awareness delivers an essential healing tool for survivors of trauma who experience unwanted memories and intrusive thoughts. Because of all these benefits, gratitude offers a simple approach to cultivating peace within us, in our communities and in the world. Below are two ways you can transform pain into gratitude.
21 Day Gratitude Challenge
Ready to embrace gratitude? I created the 21 Day Gratitude Challenge to draw your awareness to the good in you, your family, your community, and the world. It’s fun, creative, easy, free, and can help you feel more peaceful. Share with friends, family, co-workers and children. Find the free workbook here and join the 21 Day Gratitude Challenge. https://moderncreativewoman.com/gratitude-challenge/
Writing Gratitude: The Universe and Me
Ready to create your story of gratitude?
Materials: 8.5x 11” paper or your journal, pen/pencils.
Divide your paper in half by drawing a line down the middle or folding it in half.
Label the left side: The World/Universe/God/Higher Power (whatever speaks to you)
Label the right side: Me
Left Side (World/Universe/God/higher power): Create a list of what you are grateful for in the world. Here are some categories for your consideration: family, friends, community, creativity, nature, courage, work/vocation, health, spirituality, equality/justice, intimate relationships, self-awareness, safety, peace, home, self-development, education, love, kindness, compassion. Feel free to add art, make it a mind map and be as creative as you wish.
Right Side (Me): Create a list of what you are grateful for in yourself. If you are struggling here, think of what you admire in others, because you have that in you too! You can also ask a friend to give you feedback about what they admire in you. Here are some categories to consider: grateful, peaceful, trustworthy creative, grateful, team-worker, open to new experience, intuition, honesty, humility, social intelligence, enthusiasm, hope, optimism, perseverance, kindness, humor, prudence, appreciation of beauty, perspective, patience, justice/fairness, forgiveness, wisdom and perspective, patience, love to learn, zest, optimism, spirituality, trust/faith, courage, leadership, curiosity, patience, loyalty, compassion, empathy, wonder and awe, loving, psychologically-minded.
Liberation Art for Peace
What about the power of art for social justice? After self-soothing through gratitude, you may feel the urge to do something more for peace. I encourage you to be inspired by liberation art. Like liberation theology and liberation psychology, this formidable genre of art creates positive social change in individuals and communities. Liberation art draws attention to marginalized communities and encourages social justice and freedom. Using art as the channel of expression, you can give a heart-felt and potent visual declaration to your values of peace, social justice, women’s rights, or whatever feels important to you in your community or the world.
Liberation Art: What I Release and What I Desire
Materials: 8.5×11” paper (or larger), magazine/Pinterest pictures, glue, colored pencils/markers.
Set aside enough time to complete this in one setting (30-60 minutes). Make sure you begin with the left side and finish with the right side. Draw a line down the middle of your paper.
Label the left side: What I reject.
Label the right side: What I desire.
Starting on the left side (What I Release), add images from magazines or Pinterest to reflect what you are releasing from your mind. These can be lines, shapes and colors that reflect feeling, thoughts, memories, or sensations that you wish to release. You can also be more literal in selecting images of what you want to release (violence, war, terror, etc.). Write three words to describe this half of your paper. Work quickly here and move on immediately to the other side of your paper.
On the right side (What I Desire), add images from magazines or Pinterest of what you desire (peace, kindness, compassion, etc.). You can focus on lines, shapes and colors in your magazine images, or you can use literal images of what you desire. Linger longer on this side of the paper. Write three words to describe this half of your paper.
If you are inspired, share with others or post on social media. Acknowledging and then sharing what you desire can be a profound and moving experience. Furthermore, revealing your liberation art can give you confidence to continue with other peaceful actions. However, you this will be great – there is no right or wrong in liberation art. Feel free to vary this activity or use different materials.
While experiencing troubled time in our personal lives or watching chaos unfold in our communities and on the news, a possibility exists for healings. We can transform our suffering into gratitude, which contributes to peace, and take action through liberation art. Gratitude and liberation art also make excellent self-care for people engaged in activism. Take exceptionally good care of yourself by exploring gratitude and liberation art in these three activities.
Reach out and let me know what you think! Listen to The Modern Creative Woman Podcast. Find me at www.moderncreativewoman.com and as @dramybackos on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Threads. Read the blog on Medium. Contact me at Amy@Amybackos.com.
Dr. Backos is a Licensed Psychologist and Registered Board-Certified Art Therapist living and working in San Francisco, California, USA. She is CEO and founder of The Art Therapy Center of San Francisco and coaches women around the world on creativity through her signature program, The Modern Creative Woman. With over 26 years of experience as a therapist, educator, artist and author, she specializes in creativity psychology to help traumas survivors and all women integrate their experiences, heal, and find their purpose. She has authored several books including two through Jessica Kingsley Publishers: ACT Art Therapy and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Art Therapy.