How Art Can Help Anxiety Related to Addiction
We all have times when we feel nervous or anxious. Feelings of nervousness and anxiety are normally related to something that we perceive as difficult to handle. For example, having to perform a task for the first time might create some fear of embarrassment or failure. Imagining the worst, the person will be experiencing all the uncomfortable sensations as if they were doing the task. The brain goes on auto-pilot and kicks into the fight–or–flight mode.
Self-medicating can temporarily relieve anxiety. A glass of wine, a cigarette or maybe a couple of benzodiazepines would be enough to calm one’s fears. The problem is resolved for the moment. However, there is a big problem with self-medicating. The body will build a tolerance. More and more of the drug will be needed to work. In the long term, self-medicating is damaging. The drugs, in fact, have a rebound effect of creating more anxiety.
When starting rehab, learning to deal effectively with anxiety will be challenging. Substance abuse intensifies and exaggerates emotions. Hyper-anxiety can last for weeks or months after a person has stopped taking drugs. For the addict, anxiety and fear are out of proportion in relationship to reality. What this means is that the thought of something threatening can create the same response as a real threat. The addict suffers from needless pain. A thought cannot cause physical harm. Panic, however, creates mental anguish. Mental anguish is a strain on the body’s attempt to deal with the chemical reactions. The body reacts by sending pain signals.
Can you ever remember how it felt to have no fear at all? Little babies aren’t afraid. They have no reasoning skills (thinking ability) to respond to a real threat. Their reactions are pure instinct. We all came into this world blissfully ignorant of any threats to our safety. Babies are fearless little creatures!
I can vividly remember my first introduction to irrational fear. I was only four years old. There were wild blackberries in the field next to our house. My mom and dad were picking the berries, and I was tagging along, barefoot. I loved the feel of the warm ground under my feet. Everything was perfect in my world…until a blue racer decided on a path towards me. A blue racer is a very pretty dark blue snake. The blue racer is non-poisonous. Blue racers pose no real threat to humans, but how was I to know that? My mother panicked. She was screaming, “Look out, look out” and some other words that I can’t remember. I froze, not out of fear of the snake, but because of my mother’s screams. I looked around and then looked down just in time to watch the snake slither gently over the top of my right foot. The sensation of this creature touching me was completely painless; all I felt was an ever so light pressure move across my foot. The little snake kept moving, and I stood perfectly still…unharmed.
What I learned in those few moments of my encounter with a blue racer would be the staging for many years of irrational fear and anxiety about snakes. My mother’s fear of snakes became all I ever knew of these “dangerous” creatures. Even pictures of snakes would trigger my hypersensitivity. Though the snake never hurt me, I experienced a different sort of pain, the pain that comes from an irrational fear, which is the same kind of pain that grips an addict when drugs no longer work.
I know that I might be making you feel a bit uncomfortable even reading about my experience. I understand a lot of people are afraid of snakes. It is not unusual to adopt the irrational, anxious beliefs of our parents.
Patterns of thinking can take hold before we even have a chance to decide if they make sense to us. It doesn’t matter if the thought is negative or positive. The good news is that we are capable of changing our way of thinking. By replacing the negative, anxious thoughts with positive, calming thoughts, you can change the way you feel.
Art Can Help You Heal
Once you have completed a successful detox, your ability to regulate your emotions will increase. Your brain can form new neural pathways. What that means is you can teach yourself how to be calm. Calming activities will send the message to your brain to relax. By repeating calming activities, daily you will be storing up the memory of how it feels to be relaxed and comfortable. It won’t take long until you can easily draw from your memory bank to calm yourself.
Do you remember how it feels to be calm? Think about when you were lost in an activity that was so fun, you forgot about the rest of the world. You were most likely doing a fun activity that took your mind away from the world. The value of play is undeniable. During your recovery, you will want to reclaim your right to grow through creative, playful activities.
Have you ever heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Art can be a break from traditional therapy with undeniable benefits. Art can serve as a way to release emotional buildup and bring about healing. You will be moving forward as you become empowered by a stress-free environment. Self-discovery and personal fulfillment will take place. These are powerful advantages that will help you in overcoming your addiction.
Art is a sensory experience. Here are some of the ways you can tap into this healing experience:
- Painting, drawing or sketching, even scribbling
- Playing just to have fun indoors or outdoors
- Sculpting with clay or play dough
- Fabric arts, crafting or sewing
- Observing, and enjoying art that appeals to you
The main purpose of engaging in art therapy is to heal the emotions. Don’t hesitate to allow yourself the gift of art. You don’t need to be an artist. You don’t need any experience to enjoy art. You only need to take a leap into a world of unlimited possibilities!
Northpoint Recovery is a private, highly specialized drug and alcohol detox and rehab treatment center located in Southwestern Idaho. We specialize in helping adults, adolescents and families affected by substance use who require inpatient and detox services. We accept most forms of insurance, credit cards, and private payment. For more information, please visit us at www.NorthpointRecovery.com