Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy: Strengthen Mind, Body & Spirit and Increase Cancer Survival

Stress is always dangerous to your physical health. It is even more critical to avoid stress if you have been diagnosed with cancer or another life-threatening illness.

What is Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy?

Mindfulness-based art therapy is a blend of basic meditation principles and art therapy. The concept of using art therapy to aid in treatment is not a new one. Art therapy has been used effectively to help manage chronic pain, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia, mental and physical trauma, depression, anxiety and anger.

Mindfulness guides you into self-healing while art therapy allows you to express the thoughts and feelings that emerge.

A study published in the Stress and Health journal from the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine focused on measuring the stress of women diagnosed with breast cancer. During the eight-week study the women were not in active treatment.

At the start of the study each subject was given a survey to complete. Brain wave patterns were observed while subjects went through a series of tasks. Each task was designed to calculate stress levels. The women performed a neutral task, a meditative task and a stressor task.

The group using mindfulness-based art therapy was found to have measurably less stress by the end of the study. In addition, Mindfulness-based art therapy participants experienced measurable changes to their brain by the completion of the study. Each showed increased blood flow in three regions of the brain!

Regions of the Brain Positively Affected by Mindfulness-based Art Therapy

  • Hippocampus – regulates new memory organization and storage, long-term memory indexing, connecting emotional responses to the senses, spatial concepts and navigation
  • Left insula – controls cognitive function, empathy, regulates blood pressure and heart rhythm, aids in motor control and affects perception of pain
  • Amygdala – manages fear and anger responses, survival emotions, what and where memories are stored, regulation of hormone secretions and arousal

“Our goal was…evaluating the cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes associated with an MBAT intervention. This type of expressive art and meditation program has never before been studied for physiological impact and the correlation of that impact to improvements in stress and anxiety,” mindfulness-based art therapy explained director of the Center of Integrative Medicine and lead author, Daniel Monti, MD.

Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy and Brain Injury

MBAT has proven beneficial for patients dealing with the stress of brain injury as well. British Columbia magazine Headline featured a story on mindfulness-based art therapy and how it is positively impacting patients who have suffered brain trauma and are under substantial stress as they adapt and recover.

Sessions involve completing art projects – no skill required – while listening to soothing music. This allows the brain to receive relaxing data both visually and audibly. Those who participate have reported that art expression allows them to focus solely on the project at hand, giving their brain a break.

Stress and Total Body Wellness

When you have chronic stress or depression cortisol levels remain high all the time – an unnatural state for the body – and inflammation gets out of control. Inflammation is part of your immune system’s response and is useful in terms of fighting infection. However, inflammation left unchecked can lead to heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer.

If you are sick or trying to recover, stress left un-checked increases your risk of complications and even death.

5 Natural Stress Relievers

  1. Pet your pets
  2. Laugh as much as possible
  3. Putter in your garden
  4. Get lost in a good book
  5. Eat one ounce of dark chocolate daily

Clinical trials will take time and it is not always easy to measure the benefits of therapies such as mindfulness-based art therapy. However, many physicians have seen the link between stress and body degeneration in their own patients for decades.

Reducing Stress Equals Strengthening Mind, Body & Spirit

Changing your lifestyle to include mind-body medicine such as MBAT, tai chi, yoga or guided imagery will greatly reduce the stress response in your body, lower overall inflammation and help protect you from disease.