The art of living well

Our emotions can overwhelm us if we don’t acknowledge them, says Najla Al Tenajii. Here, our columnist looks at the surprising joy and emotional release of art therapy

We are all a host of different emotions. At any one time, I am a blend of different thoughts and feelings, all of which have their own place.

After my accident I found that expressing my feelings or thoughts became incredibly difficult, meaning that it was often hard to differentiate between my emotions and their triggers. Was I frightened or upset? Was I distressed, overwhelmed or exhausted but mistaking this for anger? Labels matter – the more we can recognise, name and acknowledge, the more we can process our emotions. My  overwhelming emotional distress pushed me into a corner.

Before my accident I was passionate, energetic and generally pretty transparent. It was easy to know what was on my mind. Afterwards, due to my limitations and trauma, I became lonely and frustrated. My mental and emotional peace vanished as I was forced to confront serious health issues.

I wanted to scream about my pent-up anger, helplessness and regrets, but I never got the courage or had the proper words. I couldn’t explain, couldn’t find the words to say: ‘Yes, I am furious, unable to cope, and consumed with thousands of ‘WHY’s’.

My sister arranged a therapist, and, after a few sessions, she introduced art therapy. This was a turning point for me and a brilliant solution to help address my emotional distress. As the therapy progressed, I learned about the mechanics of emotion and the difference with the emotional mind that feels, and the rational mind that thinks.  She helped me to see that with my tendencies towards being impulsive and illogical, my emotional mind was taking charge of my rational mind. Through art therapy, I learned to use colours to label my emotions and to make peace between my feelings and their triggers.

It is wrong to think that we need artistic talent to enjoy making art. Art is for all of us. It is a brilliant way to express emotions and feelings, and reflect our daily life. For me, exploring with colours while painting is a source of pure joy and happiness. Creativity can be easily cultivated, a skill anyone can learn. I soon learned the basics of colour harmony and now have an eye for aesthetics.

I started visiting museums and art galleries and learned that the creative process is a profoundly healing endeavour. In this challenging time of my life, art became a peaceful oasis where my mind could rest. Colours became soothing friends; they helped me clarify my underlying emotional struggle.

I started making birthday cards and gifts for my family and friends, which were always well received. This positive feedback boosted my mood and gave me more incentive to continue. I soon found the process fun, soothing and enriching, a mood-changer that decluttered my thoughts and cleansed my feelings. Art is now a source of joy in my life: I feel renewed after completing each painting. There is a real sense of achievement in creating something from imagination. Art and healing have an innate connection; allowing a period of creativity has been proven to lessen anxiety and depression.

After such a draining year, I invite you to discover the healing power of art therapy for yourself. Pent-up emotions can take a heavy toll on our mental health, and we need a healthy and safe outlet to explore them. Professional art therapists have a toolbox of activities that can help serve as an emotional release, whether it’s creating a stress painting or an emotion wheel, or simply creatively journaling your emotions, art therapy can help clear your head and open your heart.

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