I'm sure we can all agree that there are times when life can be really stressful. The end of the year holidays can definitely be one of those times. Thanksgiving is only two weeks away, the December holidays are fast behind Thanksgiving, and I'm in the middle preparing for a major art fair happening over the next two weekends. All of my attention has been on the art fair and I haven't even begun to think about the holidays. I am filled with so much joy and gratitude but I'm also feeling the stress!
A Shifting Set
Readying ourselves to face stresses, like the holidays, requires shifting cognitive strategies to respond to the changes in our environment. Like: the in-laws coming to visit, unforseen and additional expenses, the kids being home for break, etc, etc. There is a lot to get done and we have to mentally prepare ourself for the chaos that is about to ensue. Dr. Ellen Braaten, associate professor of psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, refers to this readying as a shifting set.
A shifting set is a type of executive functioning - a set of mental skills that helps us get things done. These skills include managing time, being attentive, focusing, planning, organizing, and remembering details. Many of us perform these activities daily but, according to Dr. Braaten, these behaviors are in even greater demand during the holiday season and can cause our brain to go into overdrive. This high level of demand can decrease memory, halt production of new brain cells, and actually cause existing bran cells to die!
In order for the shifting set to be successful, you must be cognitively flexible and be able to shift your attention between one task and another while rapidly adapting to changing circumstances. Sounds daunting! We need some tools in our toolbox to help us shift and manage the stress! Stepping away and taking a walk is always a good idea, a little yoga and some deep breathing can also help if that's your jam, or maybe you can sit down and try some art therapy.
Art and Your Body
A lot happens both in your mind and in your body when you make art. Making art is inherently therapeutic and it's good for everyone - from your grandmother to your toddler, and of course for yourself. Here are just a few of the benefits and ways the brain is affected when you engage in art making:
It lowers your cortisol levels which reduces stress
It focuses you on the present moment which activates a variety of neuro-networks, including a relaxed, reflective state, focused attention, and pleasure.
it is a cathartic experience which helps you destress and give you a sense of relief
It helps to improve your communication skills
All of those things are needed to upshift during the holidays. Any art practice is a great tool to have in your toolbox when your stress levels start to elevate. But did you know that there is an art practice that can actually help you build new neuro-pathways in your brain? Yes, it's true. It's called Neurographics. Neurographics is rooted in psychology and brain science, and has ties to meditative practice. Let's add it to your holiday de-stressor toolbox!
What is Neurographics?
Nurographica was coined by Russian psychologist Pavel Piskarev in 2014. It is a simple and effective method for working with the subconscious mind through drawing. This creative method stimulates new neural pathways by combining art and psychology. The art style deals directly with our thoughts and emotions in a non-interpretive, non-dogmatic and thought-free way to bypass our analytical mind. The method relies on the brain's ability to change itself in relation to our changing environment. The exact tool we need to combat holiday stressors!
Neurography is the branch of neurology that studies the nerves and the nervous system throughout the body. A lot of study in this field of science has to do with understanding how our minds and bodies work together. When we participate in art-making, our conscience and subconscious link. This link activates a connection between our brain cells and neurons resulting in an awareness and mindfulness that helps turn stress into calm. I'm not going to dive deep into this fascinating study of neurology. The important thing here is the neurons.
Neurons are nerve cells that communicate between our brain and our body, or more specifically our hands, as we draw. As you look at and begin to make neurographic art, you'll notice that the artwork resembles neurons and cell-like structures.
Neurographic art can get very complex and intricate, it can look abstract or realistic. It doesn’t matter what style the end result is; what matters is how you approaches the activity. The goal of neurographic art is to promote mindfulness, intentionality, and gain a sense of calm. The process is quite simple.
Play some relaxing music to set the stage.
Focus silently on what you are feeling. Think about a problem that is on your mind.
Draw intuitive lines, scribbles, or doodles that reflects your feelings. Make sure all lines go off the edge of the paper. Take no more than a minute to complete this step.
Examine the intersection of lines, and make connections by rounding off the corners.
Continue the drawing by adding shapes and lines to fill the spaces.
Finish the piece with your medium of choice. Whatever you may have on hand - crayons, colored pencils, watercolor or acrylic paint.
Ready? Let's Do One Together
* No previous drawing experience needed!
Paper. Any type or size will do
A pen, a sharpie marker, or another type of marker (*if you're planning on using watercolors in Step 6, use a permanent marker in Step 3)
Medium of your choice - crayons, colored pencils, watercolor paint, or whatever art supplies you may have on hand.
You set the stage and do step one and two above yourself. I'll guide you with pictures below through the next steps:
Step 3: Draw your lines:
Step 4: Examine the intersection of lines, and make connections by rounding off the corners:
Step 5: Continue the drawing by adding shapes and lines to fill the spaces. Remember to round the corners of all intersecting lines.
During this step, it might be hard to determine when the drawing is complete. Just go with it. There are no wrong ways or mistakes!
You might find yourself reaching a meditative state as you relax and dive further into the process.
Step 6: Finish the piece with your medium of choice. Whatever you may have on hand - crayons, colored pencils, watercolor or acrylic paint.
How do you feel? Better I hope. If you are so inclined, please send me a picture of your art. I would love to see it! Also include how you felt once you finished. Hopefully in a calm mindset ready to face whatever is coming at you! email@example.com
My husband, artist Ron Gross, does this practice daily. We have sketchbooks filled with his amazing neurographic art. Here are some examples of his work to inspire you.
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