Finding Your Voice

Anxiety through the lens of Expressive Arts Therapy

“ Why is this happening to me? Can I calm down just for a moment?

I am not in control of my thoughts. They are coming so fast.

Will my family be safe when they step out? Is it okay for me to worry so much?

There is something wrong with me.”

The voice in your head that speaks louder than the reality around you. The voice in your body that makes you feel out of control. The collective voice that makes you lose your voice. This voice is Anxiety.

Anxiety is felt in the body through physiological sensations like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, churning in the stomach, loss of appetite and sleep, physical fatigue, sweaty palms and nausea. Anxiety is experienced in thoughts when the mind goes in circles, unable to focus, ruminating over the same thought, losing control and feeling mental fatigue. It is experienced as a combination of many of the above in different measures and this experience can be amplified in situations which bring about uncertainty.  Even though anxiety is experienced by everyone, it can still feel very isolating. In this process of working on one’s responses to anxiety, we tend to lose our voice.

Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT) offers us a chance to find this voice again in a safe and non-judgmental space. It allows us to focus on the process of managing our responses to anxiety by exploring and engaging with our minds and bodies via a creative process. This may seem questionable to some. You may think, “How can engaging in music, visual arts, movement, creative writing help? These are just hobbies!”

Creative art forms have been proven to be therapeutic through research in neuroscience. While genetic predisposition and neurobiological elements contribute to the development of anxiety, familial dynamics and socio-cultural constructs have a role to play too. Sometimes stressors can be identified clearly and sometimes it just seeps into your life steadily until living with heightened anxious state becomes chronic. Anxiety serves multiple purposes including that of survival and protection. It becomes dysfunctional only when it persists and interferes with your day-to-day life. The key to restoring the stability is through the body. The voice which the body offers is often left out of the conversations on anxiety.

Expressive Arts Therapy uses an intermodal use of art forms like movement, storytelling, creative writing, music, drama and visual arts framed within psychological theories and those of expressive arts therapy. You do not need to be good at any of these art forms to engage meaningfully in an EAT session as when you create something that is an exploration of your anxiety, the therapist does not interpret it. The greater focus is on the process rather than the product. When your internal voice finds it hard to surface, engaging in arts provides a safe space for it to emerge within the context of the therapeutic relationship. It brings us into the current moment, gain resources at an embodied level to put into action when anxiety resurfaces, alongside  rewiring the nervous system to respond and not react.

Grounding using expressive arts is one of the most fundamental practices that helps when working with Anxiety. It allows us to be present in the here and now, feel connected, listen and self-regulate. Here is just an example of how grounding can look like as a practice. The key is to practice grounding as a ritual daily so that it can be accessed when symptoms get overwhelming.

Focus your attention on the body starting with your breath. Noticing the sensations you feel as you focus on each individual part of the body from head to toe and where it connects with the ground. Visualise colours for each part of the body. When you are ready to open your eyes and in slow and continuous strokes, use the colours that came up for you, on a paper. Once this process is over, pick three words that you now feel and hold them in your thought while still focussing on your connection with the ground. This can be supported by music that you find soothing, preferably something without lyrics.

Expressive Arts Therapy is the best combination of multiple art forms and verbalisation in the therapeutic process, all in the service to make the resourceful voice louder than the voice of anxiety.

Find your voice again through arts!

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Leena Godiwala
Leena Godiwala
2 years ago

Loved the article Find your voice again through the Arts. Especially the clever insight of the author ‘The voice which the body offers is often left out of the conversations on anxiety.’