Belinda leading dance in arts class

Using Art for Building Inner Peace During the COVID Pandemic

COVID-19 has brought along with it an additional pandemic affecting us psychologically—stress. Even the term ‘Corona’ alone, makes our body stiffen up and brings on heavy breathing and extreme awful thoughts appear. It causes panic, anxiety, and stress, thus leading to a lack of inner peace. Transmission control measures are adding fuel to the fire, leading to isolation, depression, frustration, and again to inner conflict.

As peacebuilders, we have an important role to play during this traumatic period, first, by building inner peace within ourselves (inner peace is vital for peacebuilders), and then, by building inner peace in others. Inner peace refers to a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to keep oneself strong in the face of stress (Barua,2014).*

Abstract flower-shaped designAs I was contemplating ways of helping people cope with the lack of inner peace caused by the Corona pandemic, my stream of consciousness took me to my week-two course at MPI in May 2019, Art Approaches to Community-Based Peacebuilding. Facilitators Babu Ayindo and Kyoko Okumoto trained us on the usage of various art forms like dance, music, Lukasa (memory board), visual arts, performance art, storytelling, fluid sculpting, image theatre and forum theatre for peacebuilding.

Silhouette of girl with ballon on fuchsia  backgroundArt is a constructive way to tackle stress because, while focusing on art, we are diverted from stress and other anxieties. While engaged in doing art, the body and mind are at peace. Thus, it enters a meditation-like state. Art used as therapy has successfully helped people with simple to chronic diseases. Studies also show that creating art stimulates the release of dopamine. This chemical is released when we do something pleasurable, and it makes us feel happier. Increased levels of this feel-good neurotransmitter can be very helpful if you are battling anxiety or depression.**

Stained glass like rose windowAs part of writing this article, I interviewed a couple of experts who use art as part of their psychotherapy process and did some of my own research. Dr. Sayeekumar, who is a psychotherapist, says, “Art has a tremendous effect on busting stress. It aids a person to experience and perform the activity (artwork). Thus, the cognition-affect behavior all act together towards that particular activity. A piece of drawing or performances like dance or music sublimates the sources of conflict and expresses into a new channel. If the engagement is sought with art willingly, it is a wonderful way out from stress.”

Mountains in a circleMagdalene Jeyarathnam, Expressive Arts Therapist and Psychodramatist, said she uses drawing, painting, drama, dancing, singing, and writing poems to beat the stress and create inner peace during these times. She added, “Creating an art piece itself is therapeutic. It brings insight into oneself and helps one to learn to cope with what is going on in their life.” During these COVID times, she has been conducting online art therapy sessions for various age groups. For those in the helping profession, she conducts short-term expressive arts therapy courses. She also is doing therapy sessions for group therapists and systems therapists on working with their own anxiety through art.

Thank you note to front-liners with drawing of a girlIn the mini-research the author conducted on ‘Art and its Benefits’ for those who used any medium of art during the pandemic (80% between the age group of 20-40 years), it was found art provided distraction from the constant frightening news, increased concentration, kept the mind focused, and soothed the inner self. Drawing and coloring of intricate patterns helped in beating the anxiety and helped avoid brooding and worrying. Ventilation of frustration through dance gave a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. They felt fresh and rejuvenated—like going back to childhood—and they felt healthy. Respondents who did group art activity with their family or with friends virtually, like singing, dancing, and artwork, said that they felt connected and not alone.

Drawing of the back of 2 girls on a swing with a bird in tree from which swing is hangingIt is time to build inner peace in all individuals who are battling CORONA across nations. Let us use art to build inner peace, being mindful of the transmission control measures. Be it virtual group singing or group dancing, or through individual activities like drawing, painting, coloring, collage making, embroidery, crochet, knitting … any medium … let’s adorn our peacebuilder’s hat and create peace. LET US BE A PART AND DO OUR PART!

Dr. R. Belinda is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Social Work, SFS, at Madras Christian College (Autonomous), Chennai, India. She attended MPI’s 2019 Annual Peacebuilding Training as a United Board of Christian Higher Education in Asia scholar.

* Barua, B. T. (2014). World peace and the goals of Buddhists. Accessed at: https://scholar.google.com/.
** Cohen, Mary Ann (2018). Creativity and Recovery: The Mental Health Benefits of Art Therapy. accessed at https://www.rtor.org/2018/07/10/benefits-of-art-therapy/.