Two papers due this week, three exams next week, along with a portfolio due during finals. And guess what—you haven’t even started on any of it.
Sound familiar? Life as a student can be stressful, and the scenario above may not be very far-fetched for most college students this time of year.
It can be hard to find time to meet deadlines, let alone take time off to focus on our own well-being as students. However, if we don’t learn how to manage our stress in a healthy way now, more serious issues may face us down the road.
Appalachian artist Larry Thacker uses art as a way for him to relieve stress and tension in his own life. As a former university dean, Thacker dealt regularly with overly-stressed students and shared that he was able to also use art as a way to help them. He shared some of his insight and tips in hopes of reaching more students with the healing nature of art.
Thacker discussed his personal journey towards using artistic outlets as therapy for stress.
“Pushing paint around really relaxed me, I found… With all that storming in my head, I needed a safe place to go to feel safe in my creativity, and that more and more became the meditative focus of painting and writing,” Thacker said.
Students on ETSU’s campus use different art mediums as ways to alleviate stress, including Annabelle Hadad and Gabrielle Kamolnick, who were found lounging on the lawn in front of Gilbreath Hall on a warm, breezy Tuesday afternoon.
Hadad, a sophomore majoring in art, was working on a project for one of her painting classes. She explained that as an art major, she aims to use her degree to be an art therapist.
“I want to work in drug rehab centers and work with possibly addicts, or with rape victims,” Hadad said. “It’s kind of a new thing I have started because I [recently] decided to be an art major.”
Although Hadad, whose father is also an artist, has grown up around art, she feels that anyone could take up art as a way of managing their stress levels—regardless of their background.
“Especially dealing with drug addicts and rape victims—people who are told that they’re not good at anything,” Hadad noted. “All of a sudden they’re shown, ‘Hey, you can do this, and you’re good at it.’ I feel like that could be very therapeutic.”
Hadad’s sentiments corroborate those also held by Thacker. He mused that as an educator, he would use non-traditional assignments to break up the flow of students’ thinking patterns.
“I’d assign non-traditional types of work as often as possible to get our brains working differently,” Thacker said. “Anything that connected artistic visualization with their thinking. I was especially fond of mind-mapping, which is another art form, when you think of it.”
Hadad and Thacker both discussed the struggle that can often come when your passion is also your field of study.
“I’ve noticed that being an art major, there are some times that painting or art has turned from stress relief into the cause of your stress,” Hadad said. “There are times that you could be stressed out that this is due next week, but at the same time it’s calming because you’re able to escape into painting.”
Thacker advised, “The hard and difficult work of something we love must not be allowed to translate into a misery. It is the love […] of the thing we’ve found that makes our creative being thrive, so we just have to keep on pushing through the chore-ness of it.”
Back at the balmy yards of Gilbreath, Kamolnick shared the science behind why art is such a fantastic form of therapy for students. Kamolnick is studying mass communication with a minor in cognitive psychology, through which she is concentrating on color therapy and color psychology.
“The type of endeavor I’m doing is not necessarily art therapy, but I’m working on creating environments where people feel comfortable,” Kamolnick said. “So more the psychological basis of color and sound and life that creates an atmosphere artistically.”
While art therapy has not been the main focus of her study, Kamolnick reiterated that colors and art are very important to the psychological side of stress.
“I’ve been researching it a lot lately, and the idea of color and certain types of light as therapy is almost as old as civilization,” Kamolnick said. “Also, colors that project light that is very similar to natural lighting—deeper tones like blue or sometimes green—that can really ease people psychologically.”
In these last weeks of school, make a little time and explore new avenues of art. Regardless of your abilities or experience, you may just find that a quick break to sketch or paint may give your brain the push it needs to ace all of those impending finals.