Finding Hope in the Holidays through Art

As many individuals experience stress during the holidays, for caregivers this may be a particularly difficult time of year.  Caregivers experience stress often, but the holidays may be a particularly tough time. Issues such as missing social events their loved ones find challenging, having to meet their own, and others’ expectations of them, needing to navigate the difficult path that their loved ones are on are but some of the added stresses that caregivers face through the holidays.  There are many ways to relieve stress, and one that can be very helpful is finding relief and hope through art based activities.

The Canadian Art Therapy Association describes art therapy as a combination of the creative process and therapy; art therapy uses components of visual art such as imagery, color, and shape, to help facilitate self-exploration and personal growth. It can include drawing, painting, collage, photography, and sculpting. In art therapy, the focus is not to create a masterpiece. Instead, art therapy aims to use creativity as a means to connect with and express thoughts and feelings. This means you do not have to be an artist to include creativity and art making as a strategy in your self-care plan.

Engaging the arts has several therapeutic benefits. Stuckey and Nobel (2010) summarized the results of different research studies regarding art therapy and have found that art making has helped to: reduce anxiety, reduce negative feelings, facilitate expressions of grief, and lower levels of stress. Stuckey and Nobel (2010) also noted that art making was able to increase self-worth, foster a greater sense of well-being and/or sense of purpose, emphasize positive life experiences, and increase positive emotions. In times of stress art making can be source of self-care that helps to explore emotions, provide a sense of relief, and refocus on meaningful life experiences.

Some activities to try:

  • Art journaling. Visual journals can be a unique way to explore memories, thoughts, ideas, and feelings using imagery and/or words. Cathy Malchiodi (2007), a prominent art therapist reports that journaling can help support emotional expression, psychological healing, and personal growth. Journaling provides space to let go of daily stress and gain new perspectives. Art journaling requires an all-purpose sketchbook with heavy stock paper. Heavier paper allows you to use various art materials such as pencil, markers, inks, pastels, collage, and watercolor or acrylic paints.
  • Making mandalas. A mandala is an art form that is created within a circular space. Mandalas originated in Eastern traditions as a means of representing wholeness. Mandalas can include detailed designs using geometric lines and shapes or they can be simplified focusing on elements such as color. Henderson, Rosen, and Mascaro (2007) describe making mandalas as a similar experience to writing in a journal as it helps to provide a sense of order and integration. To make a mandala, it helps to trace out a circle using a compass or even a bowl. Next, separate your circle into equal pieces such as four or six slices. Then, working with either the center of the circle or around the edges fill each space with various patterns, shapes, or colors. There is no right way or wrong way to complete each quadrant. Simply work with what is comfortable until you feel complete.
  • Zentangle refers to a drawing method that emphasizes structured patterns and relaxation. Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, the creators of this drawing method, aimed to produce a method of drawing that was simple, easy to learn, and contained meditative properties. At times, the hardest part of creating art is deciding what to do. Zentangles are created by using pen and pencil to combine predetermined patterns on small square tiles. Working on a smaller scale make Zentangles a quick exercise that produces beautiful results. For more information you can visit:
  • Work spontaneously. Working spontaneously with art materials may sound intimidating, but it can a great way to get creative, let loose and have fun. The act of engaging art in any way, can be therapeutic and life-enhancing. It is important to take time to experiment with different art materials and become comfortable with the creative process. Some activities to try might include: creating ink blots on paper, then once dry, try to connect each blot to form an image or experiment with watercolors and see how colors change depending on how little or how much water you use. Another spontaneous art activity might include listening to music and trying to visually represent the emotion associated with different songs with paint. The goal is to become more comfortable with the creative process without the intention of creating something specific.


Henderson, P., Rosen, D., & Mascaro, N. (2007). Empirical study on the healing nature of mandalas. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts1(3), 148.

Malchiodi, C. (2007). Art therapy sourcebook. McGraw Hill Professional.

Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. American journal of public health100(2), 254-263.

Written By: Cathy Danilec

Cathy is one of Brain Care Centre’s Support Facilitators and Counsellors. She has a Master’s Degree from St. Stephen’s College and in her current role, she facilitates various support groups and offers one-on-one counselling services.