This Easy Stress Buster Is Cheaper Than Therapy

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Feeling stressed or angry? You know it’s best to express your feelings—but therapy and journaling aren’t the only options. Bernie Siegel, M.D., a retired general surgeon in Woodbridge, Conn.,  suggests an alternative method in his book The Art of Healing. “When you draw, your intellect is quiet and your body speaks to you through images and symbols,” Siegel explains. “Your unconscious takes over, and your issues will reveal themselves.”

Dr. Siegel began using the method to connect with cancer patients. “When I’d ask someone who was about to get chemotherapy to draw his feelings about the process, and he’d use black and red to illustrate what looked like poison, I knew he would need hand-holding,” Siegel says. Another patient drew flowers and symbols of hope in bright colors, indicating she was at peace and would have less pain, he adds.

Sketching can help with all kinds of issues—not just illness. “Illustration turns attention to your troubles, and once you know your demons, you’re better able to handle them,” Siegel explains. “Try drawing once a month, as a journal of your feelings. Your doodles can help you uncover shy you’re stressed, or whether to take that job offer,” he says. To try it, grab white paper and have every color available.

Doctor’s RX

Pick a situation, problem or decision you are considering, and draw your choices in as much detail as you’d like. Return to the sketch the next day when you can view it rationally, as if someone else did it, examining the symbolism you’ve portrayed. As you decode your work, look for these key indicators:

A sense of order

If your draw a recognizable shape and things are where they should be, then all’s well,” Siegel says. “But pay attention to what doesn’t look as it should. If you draw yourself without ears, perhaps you do not want to listen to difficult news. Or if you’re not touching your partner in the image, your connection may be off-kilter. If you only depict part of a person, you may not view them as wholly in your life.”

A sense of color

“The tones you use have meaning. Green generally symbolizes life, yellow is energy, purple is spirituality, black is ominous, red is emotions and orange is change,” Siegel says.

Ask someone you trust what she sees in the sketch and how it makes her feel. Her comments, plus your own interpretation, will give you insight into your problem and help you make a self-serving, authentic choice.

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