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Painting for Stress Relief

painting for stress release

One of the most popular and beneficial ways our clients find stress relief is through making art and specifically painting. Painting, for both nascent artists and seasoned pros, is a wonderful way to tap into your creative side, explore your personal feelings, reduce stress and take care of your mental health. 

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I couldn’t even paint a stick figure,” don’t worry. It’s reported that the positive effects of making art have nothing to do with ability. So whether your bird drawings still look like little m’s or you want to give a go at a sophisticated-looking sparrow, painting for stress relief could be a fun and therapeutic activity for you.

The Benefits of Painting

According to Harvard Health, painting is extremely effective at providing stress relief and can even help prevent cognitive decline. Plenty of research supports the idea that the ability to create art stays with a person that has dementia or another neurological illness remarkably longer than their ability to speak and understand language. Not only is this beneficial for a person living with dementia, but it’s helpful for those around them, too. Many folks use art as a recreational activity, but many use it as a tool to communicate and express themselves.

Since we as a culture have learned more about stress awareness and mental health awareness in recent decades, we understand that one of the big things that can keep people feeling upbeat and in tune with themselves is getting into a “flow.” Getting into “flow” is when you are so focused on something the world blurs around you—this is a crucial part of presence and mindfulness. A recent university study outlines how painting can reduce stress hormones, revealing that it can be an effective way to be peaceful in your body. Getting into flow with painting will not only help you take your mind off things that trouble you but will allow you to focus on creating something new.

Some people want to paint but are unsure of where to start. A good starting place for abstract painters may be to recall your dreams or emotions through painting. If you’re a more technical painter, you may be interested in trying a still life, an outdoor setting or a favorite person.

If you or a loved one is interested in giving painting a try for stress relief, here are some materials and tips for beginners. You can go to a specialty art store such as Blick Art Materials or Michael’s, or you can find limited sections at shops like Target or Walmart.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is a popular choice for beginners because its consistency is easy to apply, it’s quick to dry, and there are plenty of opportunities for versatility with acrylic paint. When shopping for the first time, don’t be afraid to look for “Level 1” or “Student Grade Acrylic Paint.” To start, you don’t need the fanciest (and most expensive) professional paint. Play around with a few brands and colors to see what you like.

In the beginning, you may stick to the classics (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black and white) or you may want to mix it up. If you know what you like, get it—if pastels are your jam, choose that. If you like to paint in monochrome variations of your favorite color, go ahead! This is meant to be fun, so buy what you love or want to try.

Paint Brushes

Shopping for paint brushes may be the most overwhelming part of the painting process. To simplify: You need a big brush, a medium brush and a small brush. The bigger brushes will be used for backgrounds and large swaths of color whereas the smaller brush will be used for detail.

Once again, you don’t need to buy the most expensive professional brushes in the shop. But one thing to be sure to look for is compatibility with acrylic paints—if you get brushes meant for oil paints instead of acrylic, for example, you could damage the brush and not be able to work with the paint how you please.


Canvas is a friendly medium for beginners and acrylic works nicely with it. Depending on the look you want, you can get canvas flat, wrapped around a wooden frame, or even just printed as canvas paper. Its size also depends on what you’d like to do—for adults, the most common sizes are 16 x 20”, 12 x 16” and 11 x 14”. If you’re painting with children or grandchildren, you may want to go with something small such as a standard 8 x 10” (computer paper size) or even smaller for a special craft.  

Paint Pallet, Water Cup & Cloths

You can buy a plastic paint pallet that separates your colors or in a pinch or opt to use a paper plate. You’ll also need a water cup for rinsing brushes while painting—this will keep colors from unintentionally mixing together, making the final product cleaner. After rinsing, it’s helpful to have a rag (or a paper towel, or an old T-shirt) to quickly wipe the paintbrush before dipping into a new color. For a water cup, you can use anything—a few examples include a plastic or styrofoam cup, a reusable glass jar, or a recycled vegetable can.

Another cloth you’ll be happy to have is a big tablecloth (or recycled newspaper) you can lay around your art station to help keep the space clean. Other fun supplies you may look into treating yourself with include a table easel for propping up your artwork while you work on it and an apron to help keep your clothes clean (and to make you look and feel like a pro).

If you’re inspired by this blog and want to learn more about stress relief and other life enrichment activities for older adults and in-home care patients, read more ideas and suggestions on our blog.

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