Cancer Care Guide: Using Art Therapy and Coloring to Destress During Cancer

When you're hit by a bout of bad stress or an anxiety attack, what do you do? A quick search on Google reveals that many people look to a quick fix in the form of a pill. And I've certainly been there. But at least on my part, the pill fix always felt short sighted; a few hours later and you're back where you started.

Growing up I was very much into art. I taught art to kids at a local art school after my main classes, and at one point thought I'd major in an art related subject in college. But when I had my kids, I stopped painting. There just wasn't enough time. Then my breast cancer diagnosis hit, and I started realizing how much benefit I lost by giving up my passion. Art has been proven to be helpful for calming anxiety, and it's no wonder that art therapy, and specifically adult coloring, has become such a trend recently. 

What Is Art Therapy and How Does It Work?

So what is art therapy exactly? It's a hybrid field that's a cross between art and psychology. It became more recognized in the 1940s after some influential writers contributed to the field, but has been around for a very long time. The idea that creative expression can help the healing process has been embraced by many cultures.

In terms of visual art, art can help people to express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a cancer diagnosis. In one study, visual art helped women with cancer to focus on positive life experiences, to enhance self worth by demonstrating achievement, to maintain a social identity that isn't defined by cancer, and to express their emotions in a symbolic way.

Visual art therapy can significantly improve clinical outcomes, from better vital signs to diminished cortisol due to stress, and needing less medication to induce sleep.

— Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Study


In terms of art and music therapy, studies show earlier discharges from hospitals by those who take part in the therapy. And in terms of dance and movement based creative expression, that has been shown to improve recall, problem solving, self-esteem, and psychological well-being.

Art Therapy Benefits

Art therapy can:

Be effective results in people with eating disorders

Help reduce stress and anxiety

Help reduce stress and anxiety specifically for cancer patients

Give chronically ill patients a sense of renewed hope and better mental    health outcomes

Address the emotional needs of the elderly

Be beneficial for individuals recovering from substance abuse, or for the children of addicts

Help lower the perception of pain by moving mental focus away from the painful stimulus

Be used as a treatment for combat-related PTSD by situating art therapy within the context of other PTSD treatments

    Try It Yourself

    Today art therapy is used to treat stress, anxiety, depression, cancer, eating disorders, substance dependencies, post traumatic stress, and hyperactivity. When I was on the board of directors at L'Arche Daybreak, an international organization that runs homes for the mentally disabled, art was a staple in the community program. 

    It doesn't take long to pick up some coloring pencils and a coloring book. So give it a try. You might be surprised at how much it can do for you compared to a pill. If you need a hand, check out our Mind Care Box, it includes coloring as well as other items to help you combat stress.




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