“It’s about bringing the unconscious out and seeing what’s there. If you’re going to take 15 minutes to decompress by making some art, it’s got to be a no judgment zone. It’s not about technique or how well you draw, that’s not the point.” said Erin Palazzolo-Loparo, Art Therapist, Educator and Artist Entrepreneur.
How often do you make space for self-reflection? How about creativity? The pace of Mom-life is intense. And in the past few years stress, which was already an issue for most Moms, went to crisis levels. But when we lose touch with our thoughts and feelings, it’s harder to know what we really want or pursue what serves us.
Self-care has never been optional. But during this time of epic burnout, it’s important to do more for our wellbeing. Even when it seems impossible to protect the time. Because spoiler alert, there’s no outrunning the to-do list. And we can take more time for ourselves. Erin shares expressive art therapy techniques, that can open up quick and enjoyable ways to release stress more often.
Reconnect With Your Creativity
“One of my favorite ways to decompress is through art making,” Erin said. Countless studies cite the benefits of creative expression. It’s used for everything from managing mood to fueling innovation. Yet, what we embrace so naturally as kids, becomes hard while adulting. In an NPR interview about how art helps your brain, art therapy researcher Girija Kaimal said, “This act of imagination is actually an act of survival. It is preparing us to imagine possibilities and hopefully survive those possibilities.”
As an artist, art therapist and educator, Erin’s seen it transform lives. But you don’t need professional experience or talent to enjoy the mental health benefits.
Create with Abandon
There’s something powerful about making things. And when there aren’t constraints on how, it can be freeing and deeply satisfying. As with other forms of intentional expression, like writing therapy, journaling, or deep breathing, there are therapeutic benefits. A bit like using a valve to release pent up emotional pressure.
Erin said, “Art therapy is an integrative mental health profession that incorporates training in psychology as well as art making, to help people with all kinds of life challenges. It could be a mental health diagnosis, psychosocial stressors, or aging.”
It Can Be Therapeutic
There are a range of ways to enjoy these routines on your own. But you can also seek guidance from a professional. Erin explained, “I’ve worked with a range of people, from young children with autism to adolescents. And adults in psychiatric settings and skilled nursing homes. So, art therapy really is for anyone. But especially where talk therapy is difficult, like instances of trauma or for young children, where verbalization might not be as accessible.”
But Not for an Emergency
Erin is a member of the American Art Therapy Association, although she doesn’t have a private practice, you can find practitioners in your area on their website. But finding a new therapist takes time so, don’t start the search during an emergency.
She said, “If someone is experiencing any kind of acute symptoms, distress, or suicidality, that’s a situation where you want to reach out for help immediately. From your primary care doctor is a good way, because they can assess you in a more immediate way and refer you to a therapist, counselor or program.”
It’s a Powerful Way to Unwind
Like exercise, the work to maintain mental and emotional health, is ongoing. So, consider adding this to your self-care toolkit. Erin explains, “I encourage Moms to tap into their creativity! So, the key is to allow yourself a creative moment to decompress and take the edge off.”
She showed me how to make a quick, yet mesmerizing, free association squiggle drawing. Erin said, “It does require a few simple art materials. Like markers, colored pencils, pens, paper and most importantly, suspending judgment.”
That Can Fit into Your Routine
The squiggle isn’t new and it’s easy to try on. Erin said, “Pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott would use squiggle drawings with his patients. And many art therapists use this technique, it’s basically projective. But you have to be clear about why you’re doing it. That you’re going to do this to decompress and gain some insight.”
This is not the place to let perfectionism spoil your fun. Creating without the rigidity of heavy expectations keeps it firmly in the wellness category. You can even add words and colors to your squiggle to deepen the experience.
The Freedom of Expression Grounds You
Erin finds self-care in the work that she does. “I made the choice to go back to making mandalas for my own therapy. So, within the circle I would often show opposites being expressed. In my case I experience a lot of opposites that come as a caregiver, wife, healer, artist and as a friend, all these parts of myself.”
She explained these circles, which have historic roots, are often seen in adult coloring books. “They’re present in cultures and traditions throughout the world. And are a very popular way to relax. What I do, is a little bit different, in that it’s spontaneous, therapeutic expression. The imagery grows out of the center. But I made the decision that I needed to ground myself and knew that mandala circles have no sharp edges. They mirror the human face.”
And Can Help You Find Your Balance
Erin recently finished her mandala installation. “I would grapple with balancing the circle visually. Because if you’re creating a work of art, balance is one of those key elements. So, here I am balancing my emotions within these mandalas and for the past year that has been a cornerstone for my own self-care. It’s only one of the elements involved but as an artist and Mother a critical one. So, being able to create these and care for myself each time I was working on one, overtime. And then, to be able to create this exhibit at Cadeau and put it out there, was also very fulfilling.”
Many of us struggle to care for our mental health. But the process is iterative. Long before making space for yourself is the norm, start with little slices of time. In fifteen minutes, you can emerge a bit lighter and clearer, by using these techniques. So, experiment and see if a little squiggle release, suits you!
Many thanks to the talented Erin Palazzolo-Loparo!
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Erin Palazzolo Loparo (b. Tarrytown, NY 1979) is an abstract expressionist,
collage and mandala artist, registered art therapist and art teacher based in
Brookline, MA. She graduated magna cum laude with her B.A. in Studio Art and English from Williams
College, MA followed by her M.S. in Art Therapy from The College of New Rochelle,
NY. Erin has shown her artwork in exhibitions in NY and the Boston area and has
scientifically-inspired work on permanent display at Harvard Medical School. She
accepts commissions and currently works as an Art Therapist for the New Art
Center Newton and for Brookline Early Education Program as their resident artist-teacher on grant.