Art as a Tool for Self-Regulation

Art as a Tool for Self-Regulation

By Sushi Frausto, LMFT

Self-regulation is a person’s ability to adjust, control and manage themselves in a given situation.  Self-regulation includes:

  • Being self-aware of what is going on within yourself
  • Modulating one’s emotional & physical reactions
  • Adjusting to the situation
  • Using one’s cognitive abilities to meet the task at hand

We learn how to self-regulate over time.  Along the way, we find tools that can help us, such as meditation, exercise, yoga, deep breathing, soft music and more.

The creative arts are a powerful method for building and sustaining self-regulation.   The creative arts can put us into a state of “flow,” during which our minds enter a state of consciousness much like meditation.  This can lead to the relaxation of both mind and body.  During this state, our brains release neurotransmitters that give us feelings of calm, euphoria, pleasure and well-being.

Engaging in the creative arts is a whole-body experience.  We utilize numerous physical and cognitive functions while engaging with the kinesthetic-sensory qualities of art.   This allows for multiple parts of our brain to work in unison, connecting neural networks throughout our brain.  These neural networks can then be utilized in the future, allowing for quicker and more efficient transmissions.   The faster our brains work, the faster it can self-regulate.

Perhaps the most satisfying way the creative arts help us regulate is allowing us to transform our internal process.  Often, we hold negative emotions in, causing stress and anxiety.  The creative arts allow us to transform these emotions into something physical and outside of ourselves.   This often leads to feelings of relief, understanding, and self-control.  Whether we write, dance, draw, sing or act, creative expression allows us to transfer the energy from our thoughts and feelings into something new.

The next time you are experiencing big feelings and need a little self-regulation, try the following:

  • Draw or do some mindful coloring
  • Put on some music and move your body
  • Write in a journal, write a poem
  • Use your imagination to picture a calm and happy place
  • Knit, sculpt, scrapbook or engage in a creative activity you enjoy


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