Using art to combat stress and anxiety is not a new phenomena, but it is often neglected. Art, in all its forms, has been proven to reduce stress
levels in various areas of life, from the activities of activities to those of students. Research by the Department of Biological Sciences at MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University), showed that "art can have a significant impact on state of mind and stress reduction."
Forms of Art Therapy
The most obvious art intervention in reducing test anxiety is the practical act of participating in an art-based activity, or art therapy.
Traditional art therapy is often used hand in hand with verbal communication, but it has proven to be just as effective by simply expressing oneself through art with no verbal communication at all. Not only does concentrating on completing a piece of artwork help give the angst-ridden student something else to think about, but art also helps to calm as well as to reconcile any emotional conflicts. It has also been shown to be advantageous in "promoting self-awareness and personal growth" (Ballou, 1995).
Let the students express themselves in whichever way they wish, as long as they aren't being noisy or affecting another student's
concentration. Be on hand to deal with any issues that may arise, as art can open up channels of communication.
The type of art you let the pupils indulge in can vary from simple painting to pottery. You don't need a potter's wheel or anything fancy, even creating something from polymer clay is an artistic diversion. Collage is an often overlooked area of creative expression that those who "can't draw" might like to focus on.
You may also wish to have the class collaborate on a project and paint a section of neglected wall to create a mural or by taping large pieces of paper together to make one big piece of art for the classroom.
Select Therapeutic Paintings to View
In the same study by MMU, stressed workers were taken on an art tour to reduce their stress levels. They were shown various different types of paintings from Pre-Raphaelite to modern abstract works that were specially chosen to relax. These paintings included:
- "The Waters of Lethe" by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
- "Thomson’s Aeolian Harp" by Turner
- "Summer in Cumberland" by James Durden
You do not necessarily have to show your students these images though, as art is such a personal thing. If possible, take them to an art gallery, exhibition, or museum and allow them to spend time there. Chances are they will gravitate towards a certain piece of art. When directing students in choosing a piece of art to act as a calming device though, advise them to stay away from any images with sharp or jagged edges, such as zig-zags, or anything with clashing colors. An image that takes its inspiration from nature is likely to be the most calming, as an aide to reducing stress. Anything that includes water or large amounts of sky, with other images within the painting to focus their attentions on, is a good place to start.
Art is personal though, so allow the student to find a piece that they truly find inspirational and calming. It doesn't even have to be a painting, the gentle curves of a sculpture could be the art that best appeals to them.
Other Artistic Outlets
Art need not be restricted to paintings and museums; there are many different kinds of art. Performing arts might be an intervention worth exploring. Renting an opera or ballet DVD (or seeing one live if that's possible) might work for some students, or you might consider using drama as an art intervention. Reduce test anxiety by reading a play as a class; each student is given a role (or roles) to act out–this is an excellent diversion to test day stress, as well as teaching some literacy and drama skills.
Don't overlook simple crafts like card making or embroidery either–these are often seen as activities for more mature members of society, but are very calming and relaxing pastimes to enjoy.
There are many art interventions to reduce stress anxiety, and not all of them will suit all students, so be prepared to be flexible or offer a range of activities at one time.
- News Medical, Art Used to Reduce Stress.
- Image Credit, Water art by Peggy Reimchen (http://www.flickr.com/photos/artsylens/4365082385/)
- Art therapy: Psychological interventions a guide to strategies by Ballou, M. – Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, (1995).
- Image Credit, Student mural by Adreson Vita Sá (http://www.flickr.com/photos/adreson/3373588429/)
- Image Credit, Children doing pottery by MJC Rodez (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjcrodez/3706378841/)
- Arts for Health, Student Success Stories by Clare Ford