Drawing may help you cope with anxiety symptoms by grounding you and distracting you from intrusive thoughts.

Anxiety, as an emotional response, is a survival mechanism designed to alert you, which can sometimes feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to push you to escape, confront, or change a perceived threat.

However, prolonged, persistent anxiety that makes you experience dread throughout each day may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

It’s possible to manage anxiety symptoms and calm down in the moment and long term. Drawing may be one method that can help you accomplish this. And you don’t have to be an artist to create relaxing drawings. The mere act of drawing on paper can promote calmness.

Drawing can help relieve anxiety symptoms, particularly in the context of art therapy.

Unlike painting or coloring, which can be used to fill in blank spaces to create imagery and form, drawing involves using lines to create shapes. The mechanical aspect of drawing can be soothing.

Here are some possible benefits of drawing for anxiety relief:

A sense of control

According to Nicole Rainey, a registered art therapist and licensed mental health counselor in Tallahassee, drawing is an effective grounding technique. This is why it may work for reducing anxiety.

“Drawing provides a sense of control, meaning that when people draw, they are not just thinking about being in control, they are actually feeling the control of their pens to the paper,” she explains. “Unlike other grounding techniques, drawing actually engages our body.”

Grounding techniques are methods intended to re-center your thoughts in the here-and-now. When you experience anxiety and may feel your chest constricted, a grounding method can help you break free of that cycle.

Emotional regulation

Developing emotional regulation is another benefit of drawing, says Hayley Wilds, a licensed counselor and art therapist from Pittsburgh.

“Drawing also relaxes the body, grounding you into place and helping to regulate your emotional state,” she says. “Sometimes talking about your anxiety can actually increase it. Because drawing is a non-verbal activity, it can literally give you a break from your worries.”

Drawing while experiencing anxiety can also help take a step back from your emotions, so they don’t control you in the moment.

Art as a therapeutic tool

Art therapy uses creative methods to express what you’re feeling without using spoken words.

Art therapy can take many forms, such as painting, drawing, sculpting, sewing, or dancing.

While research on art therapy remains limited, a 2020 systematic review on mindfulness-based art therapy recognized several potential benefits for mental health, particularly concerning managing depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Drawing has been cited in recent research as a potential source of anxiety reduction, though studies examining this art therapy technique are limited.

A small 2020 study on test anxiety found that drawing mandala symbols helped reduce symptoms in college students.

A 2019 study found similar results regarding drawing mandalas. In two separate experiments, each engaging around 70 college students, anxiety reduction was accomplished while drawing. In fact, drawing mandalas was associated with greater anxiety reduction than free drawing.

Drawing may also help relieve anxiety in people facing long-term health challenges like cancer.

In a 2021 randomized controlled trial of youth undergoing cancer treatment in Turkey, drawing mandalas effectively reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression after 5 days.

What is a mandala?

The word “mandala” means “circle” in Sanskrit. Mandalas are geometric figures that have a spiritual meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. Drawing and coloring mandalas is a meditation technique, and it’s thought to help you reach enlightenment.

Most mandalas involve circular patterns, but they can hold any geometric shape.

You can find mandala coloring or drawing books that you can use to draw over, or you can let your mind and hand run free while you engage in drawing circular and other shapes that overlap with each other.

Art therapy is a recognized form of psychotherapy. Its practice requires a professional to meet master’s degree requirements by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA).

Drawing on your own, however, only requires a drawing tool and your desired medium — paper, canvas, home accessories — even the wall in your bedroom.

Here’s how to use drawing to manage anxiety:

Improvising

There’s no right or wrong way to draw. You don’t have to be an accomplished artist, and you don’t have to produce recognizable images for drawing to help you cope with anxiety.

The goal, according to Rainey, is to focus on the process, not the product.

“What I mean by this is: focus on the lines, shapes, or colors you’re using; don’t worry about making something pretty,” she explains. “Focusing too much on creating a masterpiece or a realistic image can lead to frustration.”

It’s OK if your mind is blank when you sit down to draw. You can draw anything; animals, shapes, patterns, something from memory.

If you’re at a loss, you can start by drawing something in the space around you, like a chair or a bowl on the table.

Using mandalas

If you’re searching for calming things to draw, mandalas may be “it.”

Carl Jung first introduced the mandala as a psychological tool by Carl Jung, who believed it could play a role in promoting psychological harmony.

Since then, mandalas have been the focal point of many art therapy studies, most of which seem to support Jung’s original theories.

Drawing for anxiety on your own can be as simple as focusing on creating your mandala images, which may become relaxing drawings. To start, try to create one circle within a larger circle.

You can add whatever patterns appeal to you in the space between the lines. Some people prefer dots and swirls, while others may opt for triangles or straight lines.

If mandalas aren’t enjoyable for you at first, understanding why mandalas can promote well-being could open the door for other beneficial drawing techniques:

1. Curves, not sharp edges

How shapes appeal to the brain could influence what you choose to draw.

In a 2013 study on architecture, researchers found people gravitated toward curvature rather than sharp angles.

The same findings were noted in 2016 when experts verified curved lines were considered the most visually pleasant, but participants weren’t necessarily opposed to angularity.

Mandalas are often circular, which could be one reason they soothe the brain, but other curvy designs may also be soothing.

2. Fractal preference

Another component often seen in mandalas is the presence of an intricate, repeating pattern within the larger circle.

In nature, this is known as a fractal pattern, or multiple patterns, increasing at greater magnifications.

Much research has been done on the mental benefits of viewing fractal patterns.

In 2021, a review noted that this pattern created positive aesthetic experiences for observers and promoted physiological stress reduction.

Fractal patterns can be created in any shape, not just within a circular mandala.

More research exists on coloring as a form of art therapy than drawing. In fact, what you color may not matter at all; the act itself can promote anxiety relief.

Rainey explains coloring can be a great alternative to drawing.

“For anyone who continues to get frustrated by the drawing process, coloring is a great alternative to reduce anxiety,” she says. “Coloring offers similar benefits to drawing, except it often removes the frustration of trying to make your image look right.”

Wilds adds that coloring can provide a predictable, comforting environment reminiscent of something safe and familiar.

“Like drawing, coloring encourages mindfulness and reduces anxiety naturally by way of shifting focus to the task at hand,” she states.

A 2020 study found that, while anxiety drawing was more effective than coloring in symptom relief, coloring was associated with more enjoyment.

If you’re living with anxiety, drawing may help you find relief by re-centering your thoughts, providing a sense of control, and helping you regulate your emotions.

You don’t have to be an accomplished artist to use drawing for anxiety relief. Sitting down and drawing shapes or patterns may be enough to keep anxiety at bay.

If drawing is too frustrating, coloring may be another enjoyable alternative.