Are you struggling with expressing your emotions, including grief, depression, and negative thoughts, but you would like to communicate your thoughts, needs, and desires healthily and effectively or seek ways to articulate your joy and enthusiasm for life? If yes, then the arts can play a significant role in helping you express your emotions. For example, painting, writing, or music can be therapeutic tools that you can use to process your emotions. Therefore, incorporating the arts into your life can improve your emotional well-being and overall quality of life.
In a study on the Role of Art Therapy in the Promotion of Mental Health, Shukla, Choudhari, Gaidhane, & Syed state, “Art therapy can help people express themselves more freely, improve their mental health, and improve interpersonal relationships. The basis of art therapy is established on the idea that people can recover and feel better via artistic expression.”[i]
In essence, self-expression through the arts is a powerful way to explore and communicate our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The arts offer a unique and creative outlet for self-discovery and expression through music, drama, poetry, or other forms. I will focus on writing, music, and dance for this article.
Therapy with the arts can positively affect the mental health of those who need it. The article, Healing Through Art: Self-Expression as Therapy, talks about the healing aspects of the arts. “Regardless of whether or not you feel you have “artistic talent,” art therapy can benefit you by reducing stress, reducing depression, reducing trauma symptoms, helping you gain personal insight and self-esteem, and helping you develop new coping skills,” says Katy Gillivan[ii].
Since mental health is a serious issue in our world, it behooves us to embrace anything that we can do to help ease the pain and suffering. One art form that I found helpful was writing.
In 2016 I was confronted with grief, depression, and suicidal thoughts. When my late husband passed after a courageous battle with lung cancer, writing was my method to express my feelings during the darkest time of my life. God help me write myself out of a depressive state.
A depressive state can negatively affect how you feel, think, and act. In my master’s thesis, Writing as a Mode of Therapy: The Path to Healing and Selfcare, I discussed how writing was healing and therapeutic.
When I started writing about my life circumstances, I began to see how God was preparing me for this journey that I have been embarking upon. When I see the words on paper and read them to myself, I can see God’s amazing handy work. Writing has allowed me to relive my past: the good, bad, and the ugly. It allowed me to come face to face with those demons that tried to eradicate my life from existence (Law, 2023).
I started writing in my journal about what I was feeling in my daily life. However, I wanted to be candid about what I was going through, so I started writing Facebook posts about my struggles and, to my surprise, my post was encouraging to others in similar situations.
My family and friends would tell me how my posts encouraged them to keep going. I always ensured I ended my posts positively, no matter how bleak the post started. I would always end with my gratitude to God and how He was at work in my life.
At the suggestion of my therapist, I started a Blog called Blessings in the Storm. God has a blessing in the middle of every storm. After losing my late husband, God gave me a gift and a love of writing. But not just any writing. He instilled in me a desire to write to encourage others and to further glorify His name by writing Christian content.
I have written and directed my first play for my church, The Time Machine Talk Show: The Easter Edition. I am also working on my spiritual memoir, From Tragedy to Triumph: Finding my Blessing in the Storm, and a devotional for those living with grief and depression.
I have also used poetry to help me navigate my emotions. Nancy Scherlong and Laura Santner conducted a study on creative arts-based group therapy with adolescents. They found that “poetry therapy techniques and elements of therapeutic journal writing can help adolescents in groups to clarify and express issues of identity and belonging, find and use their individual and collective voices, and connect and work with one another to increase engagement and resilience.”[iii] Prior to this knowledge, I did not know how writing my poetry would help my healing process.
My poem, “In the Depth of Darkness,” talks about my battle with the darkness of depression. It tells of my distress of feeling empty and hopeless, when I thought I had hit rock bottom:
In the Depth of Darkness
In the Depth of Darkness, will I ever find rest?
Like the mighty Oak Tree in the forest, its roots dig deep sorrowfully.
In this bottomless void where the enemy lays its evil head.
He is a cold, calculating soul of heartlessness.
In this bottomless murky pit lives the aching heart of distress.
I gave him admission into my soul.
hazardous contemplations ravaged my heart, body, and mind.
A meaningless life that measly verses and lyrics can never express.
Hostile and aggressive thoughts revolve around me.
Like the clanking of cymbals, Satan’s boisterous voice criticized every move
as he muffled God’s still, small voice.
My mind, driven on an extensive journey, next stop, insanity.
Hydrocodone, Tylenol, and even Zyrtec are desperately displayed on the table.
Snuggled next to glasses of Moscato and Jack.
Heartbroken, hopeless, sad life-fighting final ditch efforts.
Twilight in obscurity is the madness he enables.
Like the deserted child, lost at the park, hopeless.
I am invisible, missing in the depths of the shadows of death.
My own mind abducts me.
In the depth of the darkness,
will I ever find rest?
Whether it is poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or screenplay, writing is an excellent mode of self-expression through the arts. Still, there is a mode of art that brings people together. If you are looking for a way to start writing, some websites will give you writing prompts to get you started. The one that I like to use is Free Write.
Unbelievably, writing is not my favorite art for self-expression. Music has always been my first love, and it was my gate way to the arts.
Music is a powerful way to express emotions and connect with other art forms. Matt Jorge, an educator at the Children’s Creativity Museum, said, “In the moment (music), it has the ability to influence our moods, inspire energy, and remind us of cherished memories. While over time, music has an even greater impact as it shapes our identity and allows us to express our true selves.”[iv]
As a child, I played violin from first grade to my tenth year of high school. I have also participated in concerts, church, and competition choirs throughout childhood and adulthood. However, then, I had never considered music to be healing or a form of unity, but just something I enjoyed listening to.
Music transcends economic, racial, and social barriers and can bring people together regardless of their background. Music allows us to hear the notes or words and feed them into our souls. It is a storytelling mode set to music that can promote celebration and unity. Whether playing an instrument, singing, or just listening to music, it can help you process your feelings and connect with others who share similar experiences.
Whether you are writing music, singing music, or playing music, music can become a part of your soul. Putting your thoughts, feelings, and emotions into music allows the listener to experience your feelings.
Listening to some R&B songs brings back so many good memories from the past, but it is like a natural high when I listen to Gospel or Christian music. I feel closer to God, and that music always lifts my spirits when feeling down.
What is your favorite music to listen to when you are feeling despondent? Please be aware that the words expressed in music can send people into a frenzy of happiness, allowing any depressive thoughts to be nonexistent. However, music can also send you spiraling into depression. So, you must choose your music carefully when thinking of yourself if you are depressed.
Pharrell Williams’s song, “Happy,” is a catchy upbeat tune with a melody that makes you want to dance. The mood of the music matches the lyrics:
“Uh, bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down
My level’s too high to bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down, I said
Bring me down, can’t nothing
Bring me down
My level’s too high to bring me down
Can’t nothing bring me down, I said” (Williams)
Pharrell’s lyrics make you want to dance, smile and sing. On the other hand, a song about being in pain from a breakup or heartache could tend to make the listener sad or depressed.
Music plays a significant role in the development of our psyche.
Who does not love a good dance, especially line dances like the Electric slide, Cupid Shuffle, or Wobble? According to the article “The Power of Self Expression Through Dancing,” Annie Sparks states, “Dancing is an art form that has been used for centuries to express feelings, emotions, and stories. It is a unique form of communication that allows us to create our own identity and tap into a powerful source of energy that can help us heal, grow, and connect with others.”[v]
In addition to being a powerful form of self-expression, dance is a great way to stay fit and healthy. It is a fun way to get our bodies moving and to stay active. Whether we prefer ballet, hip hop, salsa, or any other dance style, we can incorporate it into our daily routine and reap the physical and mental benefits. For me, all I need to do is to put on some music, let myself go, and dance like no one is watching!
No matter what season you are in at this stage, immersing yourself in the Arts can help you navigate those difficult times. The Arts are one of the main areas where you can express yourself personally and intimately.
Writing, music, and dance are just a few ways to increase your mood and relieve stress, anxiety, and many other negative gateways that can find their way into our headspace. The arts can help us turn those things around and get us into a more positive mindset.
So, get out your journal or electronic device. Turn on the music. Write poetry and dance those blues away.
[i] Shukla, A., Choudhari, S. G., Gaidhane, A. M., & Quazi Syed, Z. (2022). Role of Art Therapy in the Promotion of Mental Health: A Critical Review. Cureus, 14(8), e28026. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.28026
[iv] Jorge, M. (2023). Music: A Window to Your Inner Self. Children’s Creativity Museum. https://creativity.org/blog/education-blog/musicalexpression/