Using the Expresssive Arts to Explore What You Are Feeling

 Drawing Dizziness

Drawing Dizziness

Lately I have been experiencing periods of dizziness. This morning was one of those times, so I decided to use my experience as an example of what you can do when you are feeling something uncomfortable. Here is what I did today: I drew a picture of what I was feeling. I found a way to express the experience of dizziness using crayons and paper.

Using the expressive arts, drawing and journaling, in particular, is a way to access the more imaginal, non-logical parts of ourselves. We can receive insights and new understanding when we let ourselves listen to the messages that come from symbolism, creativity and body awareness. How often do we truly take the time to pay attention to what our feelings and physical sensations are telling us? At times, it can seem much easier to ignore or judge what we feel. 

To be clear, I am not suggesting exploring your physical and emotional sensations through the expressive arts is a replacement for professional care. If something unusual is going on in your body, I certainly recommend you get it checked out. You may need medical attention. Even if you do not, it is best to rule that out. In my experience, so many of my physical symptoms and sensations have an emotional component. Still, I know I need to make sure there is not something else going on.

Drawing What You Feel

How does this process work? To start, it may be helpful to turn off distractions, clear some time and space for yourself and put on some calm music in the background. All of these things help you begin to tune into yourself and pay attention to the here and now. Gather whatever materials you have on hand: paper or journal, crayons or colored pencils. Even using a pencil or a pen and a piece of scrap paper to sketch some element of your experience can be enough to give you a sense of what may be hiding under the surface.

The next step is simply to draw what you are feeling. What do you notice in your body? Pause for a few moments and let yourself feel into what is present in this moment. What would it be like to find a way to express that using colors, symbols, lines, and shapes? There is no right or wrong way. Pick up a color and see what comes.

In the example of my dizzy head, the picture above shows a floating balloon head with swirls around it and points of pressure in my sinuses. As I drew, I also felt this place of tension in my shoulders, which I depicted with a jagged black line.

 Adding Words

Adding Words

The next step is to pause and take a look at your drawing. What do you notice? What stands out to you? What are you curious about? As you look and feel, begin to write down words that describe some aspect of your drawing. In my example, I wrote, "spinny, dizzy, pressure, floating, disconnected" and "cut off, tension, pain."

From here, I like to find some way to honor and acknowledge whatever is showing up on my paper. This morning, I wrote in the bottom left corner, "hello. I am here. What do you need?" Asking ourselves, our bodies, feelings and sensations, what we/they need is a beautiful way to bring in some care and kindness. The question itself is an invitation to soften and listen. You may receive an answer that surprises or touches you. It may be hard to hear at first. That's okay. Simply ask and wait and notice. You may not receive a response until sometime later.

 Bringing in Support and Love

Bringing in Support and Love

This morning I heard an answer: I needed care, compassion and to be held. As I wrote "to be held," I felt grief. I wanted to find a way to depict "being held," so I added round, curvy lines to my drawing, an approximation of arms holding the dizzy head. I let myself feel my some of my grief and feel held. I noticed I softened, felt more in my body and less dizzy.

Whatever you draw and whatever you feel, finding a way to bring in some kind of comfort or support is an important step. It could be imagining an animal or a pet with you and adding them to your image. Maybe you find comfort in nature and would want to add a tree or the moon to your drawing. A friend or loved-one may be your source of comfort. It could be as simple as adding a color or a heart to your image. Notice what or who you want to be with you, imagine them there and include them. 

Another step you can do is to journal about your drawing and/or your experience. Either on the same piece of paper or another sheet, take a few moments to let the words flow. You can start with a title on the top. For example, mine today might be something like, "My Dizzy Head." From there, see what comes. Let it be grammatically incorrect and stream of consciousness. It could be more like a poem. Words and phrases strung together. Asking questions such as, what do I need or why is this feeling here now, and seeing if the answers come. Whenever I write in this way, it is almost as if the words write themselves, showing up on the page before I have consciously thought of them.

When you are done, take a few minutes and look over your drawing and your words. Notice if you feel any different from when you started. Something may have shifted. Something may have opened up. Know that you can back off if anything feels like too much. You always have the option of disconnecting or resting in a place or image of comfort. You can also reach out to a trusted friend or therapist and ask for them to listen as you share about your experience.

When I first began exploring this work through Dan Leven's SomaSoul®: Somatic Therapy training program, one of my assignments was to draw what I was feeling every day. It was remarkable to take the time to tune into myself, feel what I was feeling and find a way to visually express whatever I was experiencing. I learned a lot about what was going on in my body that I was used to ignoring. I still use this process as a way to connect inward and practice self care. 


Katherine Grigg, RSMT is a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist who is passionate about weaving mindfulness and compassion into everyday life. She sees clients in West Hartford, CT and teaches classes and workshops in the Greater Hartford area. To view all her offerings and learn more about somatic therapy, a mind-body healing modality, visit her Classes and Workshops and About pages