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How to relieve stress with art: 5 scientifically proven methods

a calming stress free ocean bedroom with nature driven art above the bed looking out over the calm blue oceanDid you know that looking at art gives humans the same internal, chemical response as falling in love? It’s true! Researchers in the United Kingdom recently figured out that admiring paintings, drawings, sculpture (or, perhaps, beautiful pictures of nature) triggers the brain to release dopamine, the bodily compound most commonly associated with desire, pleasure and, yes, love.

Now, this is good news on any day. But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a bit of information that I hope people will take to heart as they search for ways to relieve stress.

With so many of us facing mounting pressures and uncertainties related to jobs, childcare, the health of our loved ones, etc., it’s no wonder 45 percent of adults in the United States report worry and stress about the virus have negatively affected their mental health.

What’s worse, according to the Centers for Disease Control, all this anxiety can not only hamper your immune system, when not addressed with proper stress management techniques, it can lead to lots of other negative physical consequences, like disruptions to sleep or eating patterns, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic ailments and diseases and an increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other harmful substances.

Fortunately, art can actually make us feel better, (not just lovey dovey) both physically and mentally. For an instant mood boost, read on for five art-related stress management techniques.

1. Visit an art museum or gallery

a woman relaxing in an art gallery observing two large photographs of nature

Whether you’re looking to relieve stress, alleviate depression or just get the old creative juices flowing, scientists have found one sure-fire way to do all three is to visit an art gallery or museum.

Even if your local galleries and museums are currently closed to the public, fear not. Thanks to the magic of the internet, with a couple of clicks or taps you can travel to literally hundreds of museums online or explore art collections in virtual reality.

2. Create your own art

Photo of a photographer on top of a mountain capturing photographic art as a way for him to decompress and relax

Whether you enroll in an online photography course, set up an easel and canvas in the garage or simply make some time to color before bed (yes, adults can color, too), producing your own piece of art is scientifically proven to relieve stress and improve your overall mental health.

Bonus: In addition to making the list of science-backed stress management techniques, family art projects are also a great way to keep little hands busy during quarantine.

3. Bring the outdoors inside

A beautiful panoramic photo of a forest providing a soothing environment inside the home to relieve stress

Our homes may be safe havens from the virus, but they don’t seem to offer much protection from pandemic-induced depression.

In fact, in May, a staggeringly sparse 14 percent of Americans reported being “very happy.” And experts agree that much of the blame for our blues is due to isolation—not just from each other, but from nature, too.

Humans, as biophilic creatures, possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. When we are cut off from these social and natural connections, as we have been during this global crisis, our mental health suffers.

Thankfully, science has demonstrated again and again that simply viewing plants or other nature scenes can be enough to remind us of our intrinsic bond with mother earth and reduce the negative effects of separation.

In one study, for example, researchers separated hospital patients recovering from gallbladder surgery into two groups. The rooms of the patients in the first group featured views of a grove of trees, while patients in the second group had only a brick wall to look at.

In the end, not only did the tree-admiring group heal up a full day faster than their brick-watching counterparts, they showed less signs of depression, reported fewer pain symptoms and required less pain medication.

Whether you live in the country, suburbs or city, it’s easy to try this method out yourself. Incorporate some house plants into your decorating, make a terrarium, grow some herbs on your kitchen counter, or…

4. Decorate with beautiful pictures of nature

a calming bathroom environment with a photo above the bathtub a seemingly good place to relieve stress a the end of the day

As we learned in tip No. 3, when it includes beautiful pictures of nature, interior design can go far beyond color schemes and throw pillows to actually help you live a healthier life.

But where to start when creating a decompression oasis? First, look for pieces that bring you a sense of calm, inspiration or closeness to nature.

And keep in mind that while a dramatic photograph of Times Square might be very eye-catching, it probably isn’t the best subject matter for soothing.

Indeed, the attention restoration theory suggests scenes of urban environments are actually draining, because they keep us constantly looking for tasks to be completed (watch out for traffic, don’t run into that bike messenger, etc.)

Second, consider where you spend the most time. If you’re not in your formal dining room much, it’s probably not the best place for your new serenity-inducing piece of art.

As we tend to spend most of our time in a few key rooms of the house (the kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom), I suggest you start there.

For beautiful pictures of nature and animals from every continent, check out my gallery. A portion of the proceeds from each piece goes to on-the-ground, local conservation efforts.

5. Follow more artists

a happy young couple admiring one of their purchases of photography for their new home

Despite what your Twitter feed might have to say, social media doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. When used strategically, scrolling and swiping can actually become one of your go-to stress management techniques.

Instagram, in particular, can be a great place to find new art and artists, as well as inspiration. Like, subscribe and get that dopamine flowing!

Need to relieve stress? Hang some nature photography

beautiful mountain photo hung in modern home with happy relaxed mother and daughter smiling

I spent nearly 15 years as a personal trainer, so I know just how much anxiety and depression can affect not only the mind, but also the body.

And I also know that we’re all feeling the pressure these days—from unprecedented global crises and political upheaval to the more everyday stressors that come with careers and families.

That’s why I’m happy to share this quick list of five art-based stress management techniques that any of us can use to better cope:

  1. Visit an art museum or gallery (virtually is fine!)
  2. Create your own art
  3. Bring the outdoors inside
  4. Decorate with beautiful pictures of nature
  5. Follow more artists
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