Art as an Escape


One of Kate L.’s ’24 collages.

Kate L. '24

As we all know, high school can be stressful. Whether you’re a freshman trying to form friendships in a new and confusing setting, a sophomore feeling the rigor of the work dial up, a junior going through a notoriously tough year, or a senior juggling college applications and other senior year stressors, there’s no doubt you have felt it at some point. There are weeks where all your tests are the same day, sports practices leave you wondering where all the time to do homework went, and deadlines approach faster than expected. Sometimes stress is brief and has a defined endpoint, such as the stress felt when making an announcement at assembly or turning in a test. At other times, it feels like a rude house guest overstaying its welcome. Stress causes the brain to release cortisol, a hormone that keeps you alert in an emergency, but can be physically and emotionally draining over long periods of time. After Hum Dev, we’ve all heard of self-care: the importance of fuelling our bodies, getting a good night’s sleep, and taking the time to exercise. But maybe there is an element we’re missing, something potentially just as important as nutrition, sleep, and exercise: art.

Art by Kayla Saxon ‘24.
Multimedia art made by Finn D. ’24

Studies have shown that art can act as a regulator for stress and actually reduce cortisol levels. But how does it work? Dr. Susan Magsamen, executive director of the International Arts and Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine states, “Art creates different neural pathways that help extinguish fear.” This reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that releases cortisol. Art, Magsamen says, can “really help settle down the amygdala. Those are important neurobiological shifts.” 

If you’re hoping to reduce your stress levels through art, here are some ideas:

Coloring mandalas

One of the easiest ways to relieve stress in terms of art is through coloring mandalas, complex geometric symbols. One of the best parts about coloring mandalas is that it requires zero artistic ability. Anybody with a printed mandala and colored pens in hand can test it out. Click here to print a mandala to color in!


Science shows that doodling is more than just something people do while spacing out in class. In fact, doodling helps individuals focus on a task rather than slipping into a default state. In her book Chilling Out: The Psychology of Relaxation, psychologist Christine Selby recommends a specific doodling technique to reduce stress. She proposes drawing a continuous line that curves and twists across the page. Then, she suggests using a different color to fill in the blank spaces created by the lines. The repetitive movement of the pen creates a feeling of relaxation. 

A recent doodle by Siena R. ‘24.
Pattern Design by Katie M. ’26.

Making a magazine collage

Creating collages from old magazines was one of my favorite hobbies I took up during the Covid-19 quarantine. To make a collage, simply cut your favorite images, symbols, or words from a magazine and arrange them on a piece of paper. Then, use a glue stick to attach the cut-outs to the paper. 

A collage the writer made during the Covid-19 quarantine.

Bracelet making

Bring it back to middle school with this fun and practical activity. Simply purchase string and take the time to learn some patterns. Once you learn basic patterns, you can gradually work your way up to complex illustrations. 

Bracelets made by Morgan Z. ’24.

Regardless of whether you’re scribbling stick figures, sculpting with Play-Doh, or painting the next Van Gogh, you are not thinking as much about your current situation. In other words, art can provide a much-needed distraction. This gives our systems a break from the stress we’re enduring and time to recover. So next time you are searching for a healthy way to cope with stress, art just might be your friend.