In the first half of this year, we have been going through global trauma from the pandemic. We
are aware of racially motivated attacks against Asian communities from COVID-19 and
speaking up on the heavy, inter-generational trauma of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour
(BIPOC) communities across the world. These issues come up on our news feeds and in the
conversations with our friends and family.
Advocating for social justice and dismantling systems of oppression is powerful, but can also
be overwhelming and exhausting. Many of us are experiencing overwhelm and a heightened
state of anxiety by the consumption and engagement of heavy topics so I brainstormed a few
of my go-to art as therapy containment activities I have been working with to find lightness
amidst the waves.
Containment means practicing healthy management of emotions, in times of crisis focuses on
reconnecting to resources that were already there before the crisis. If you are reading this blog
post, you are probably looking for ways to take care of yourself so that you can show up or
speak up with courage, compassion and awakened consciousness. Here are some creative
ways to honour yourself, find containment and lightness as you intentionally engage with the
heaviness around you.
Art as therapy directive/prompts:
Draw or make an art piece that speaks to our experience of the heaviness that is
happening in our world today.This directive can portray and validate what you are feeling and experiencing and can be a great alternative activity to practice mindfulness. Connecting our mind with our body is crucial during moments of overwhelm. As any therapeutic art making goes, the process can be a contained expression of the heaviness we may be feeling. Containment in your art could look like the size of canvas/paper you draw on and the size of your drawing/painting itself, the materials you chose to work with, the feelings’ language which is meta-verbal (without the vulnerability of words).
If you are looking for more containment, feel free to notice if your art piece needs a border, or
somewhere safe to store the artwork. Some examples could be sticking on painter’s tape as
borders you can decorate or leave as is after peeling off the tape, or finding an envelope to seal
and store the art piece until you want to revisit it when you are ready. I created numerous art
pieces thinking of this directive in mind.
In the back of my art pieces, I love to note down thoughts of what I reflected throughout the
creative process. A message I found myself writing down is: “The various issues that deeply
matter to others and yourself may be more similar than they appear.” This made me reflect on
many internalized systemic oppressions that us humans may be advocating for: mental health,
black lives, the LGBTQ+ community, feminism, immigrant lives, people with different abilities,
survivors of abuse, mother earth, accepting and loving of all people, compassion towards all
species on earth and more. There can be so much kindness when we can see the
commonalities between what we all stand for.
What are the messages you express through your art making process?
Practice this exercise often to solidify and strengthen your memory of this coping strategy.
Design by visualizing and/or drawing the container.
The 3 components that goes into the design of the container:
1. Sturdiness: think about the material it is made out of. Think about the opacity, would you be
able to see through what’s inside.
2. A 2-way system: so that you can put worries into the container and take things out of the
3. The inside needs to be comfortable: Part of the design is about how comforting the
container is for your fears and worries to stay inside until you are ready to deal with it.
Give the container a name so you can call it out when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Write down the name at the back of the drawing to remember it—so you can name it to tame it!
Practice by walking through a recent incident that has been a minor disturbance (a 5/10 in
terms of how bothered you are by it) and visualize you putting that worry or fear into the
container, sealing it up and storing it away. You can always revisit this worry and deal with it or talk about it when you are ready. The container is there to help hold what doesn’t serve you in this moment so that you can do what you want and need to do.
Find a photograph of a memory or draw out a fond memory that brings you peace.
Practice grounding with a mindful visualization or representation of a memory to contain and
help manage overwhelm. This exercise can help to bridge more neural connections to those
relaxing experiences and let that hardworking nervous system to rest and recharge.
To strengthen the resource, something I learned in EMDR training is to “tap it in” by doing the
butterfly hug (crossing your arms to each side of your shoulder or chest and tapping), tapping
your hands on your laps, or tapping your feet—alternating left and right at one second
I walked through this exercise by reminiscing the 8 hours I spent in Paris last year. Taking in all
the senses of what I saw, felt, sounds I heard, and foods I tasted and smelled.
Although our window of tolerance may have gotten smaller, our creativity to adapt to our
surroundings have gotten stronger. I have witnessed so much resilience from people around
me and from my clients: from the abundance resources and o
fferings online to ingenious ways
we are connecting with those we love.
Hoping you can give these containment exercises a go and see if any of them can be added
into your coping toolbox!