In this brief guide we will discuss the use of mandalas to manage anxiety.
Stress And Anxiety
We all experience stress in varying amounts on a daily basis. Signifiers of stress- be it physical or emotional can be adaptive and it is our body’s way of telling us to work out strategies on how to deal with them.
While stress is a normal human experience, if the amount of stress we experience on a daily basis crosses a certain threshold it no longer becomes adaptive. Rather it can impact the way we think, feel, and behave.
Stress and anxiety can quickly turn into a problem when we find ourselves ill-equipped to deal with the intensity of the stressor. When this happens and it impacts the way we function and causes disruption in our daily lives then anxiety is said to have become a psychological issue.
According to the American psychological association diagnostic manual (DSM-V),
“…anxiety is an emotion that is characterized by intrusive and recurring thoughts of worry and tension.”
A person who has an anxiety disorder struggles with persistent and excessive worries and thoughts related to these worries in the absence of a stressor. These intrusive worries are also accompanied by other symptoms such as
- Edginess or restlessness
- Inability to concentrate
- Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
- Increased muscle aches or soreness
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or restlessness at night
Anxiety like most mental disorders can be managed with treatment and therapeutic measures. The act of colouring or drawing a mandala has emerged as a therapeutic technique to manage anxiety.
What Is a Mandala?
In Sanskrit, ‘mandala’ means “circle.”
Mandalas are considered to be sacred circles that have been used to facilitate meditation in the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Mandalas can be drawn on paper or be painted on canvas, or they can also be temporary creations on the ground such as chalk mandalas or sand mandalas made for various ceremonies and festivals.
The mandala consists of a large main circle which is then filled with various patterns, shapes and symbols which are repeated in symmetrical patterns and coloured.
The act or the process of creating a mandala is as important as obervising the final product and is often done with the intent of drawing mindful attention of the body and the mind which makes them powerful tools for mindful meditation.
Mandalas as Art Therapy
As of recent years, mandala’s have been used in therapeutic settings and they have also been studied to understand their impact on anxiety.
A study comparing the practice of drawing mandala versus unstructured colouring on participants who have been induced to feel anxiety, found that the group who coloured the mandala’s reflected having less anxiety after.
The research hypothesised that it could be because
“…coloring the symmetrical form of the mandala with its repeating patterns and complexity purportedly helps to draw individuals into a state similar to meditation.”
Mandalas are regarded as a tool in therapy to heal. It has been observed to reduce stress, blood pressure and anxiety when used mindful and as a meditative practice
People who color mandalas often experience a deep sense of calm and well-being. It can also be said that it allows the participants to enter a state of full engagement and flow.
The concept of “flow” comes from the work of positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi who described it as a state of complete immersion in an activity. This state is associated with creative activities such as painting, drawing, or writing. However, it can also occur while engaging in a sport such as running.
Research finds that when a person is in a state of flow, there is an increase of dopamine in the brain which can give a person a sense of well-being.
Flow is achieved when there is a complete focus on the activity itself and the person feels a sense of control. It also requires for a person to know that the task is doable while it also presents some challenges and an immediate reward.
When creating mandalas, a person can experience a state of flow as it does meet the conditions of a person to be fully immersed in the activity. This can help relieve a person from extreme stress as it provides serenity and a loss of sense of self- fully engaging the person on something else other than their anxieties.
It is not only for anxieties that mandalas can be used but for other psychological distress as well. A study found that mandala colouring is an effective art therapy to help people struggling with distress, anxiety, and depression related to cancer recovery
How to Use a Mandala in Therapy
There are several ways you can use a mandala for therapeutic purposes therapy, some of them include:
Mandala drawing is the process of drawing a circle into a mandala flower. The key is to let your mind and intentions draw the mandala. It isn’t just about perfection, rather it is about creating a connection with your feelings as you draw them out.
Here is a link to a video guide to learn mandala drawing.
Mandala colouring is the process of coloring mandalas. It involves repetitive movements and focused attention, which allows you to escape your thoughts. It is done with the intent to take yourself away from your mind.
There are many mandala colouring books on the market now which have been created with the intent to help others mindfully engage with the activity at hand.
In this therapeutic technique, you are required to rest our gaze on the mandala that has already been created or drawn and use it as a guide for visual meditation. You allow your mind and your thoughts to empty while purely focusing on the imagery.
Vicky Hartley for Watkins Publishing breaks down the steps to meditating on a mandala are as follows:
- Place your mandala art in front of you either on the ground or on a wall.
- Sit comfortably in front of it.
- Begin to breathe slowly and deeply emptying your of any tension and your mind of any worries or thoughts
- Continue breathing and concentrate on the image, allowing the image to come in clearly and fully.
- Breathe and focus on the shapes, colours and patterns.
- If you become distracted, redirect your mind back to the mandala.
- You can meditate for 5-10 mins.
Who Can Benefit From the therapeutic use of Mandalas?
Mandalas help you bring your focus on something other than your intrusive thoughts and give you that mental pause by allowing you to be engaged in a state of flow.
They also give you the added benefit of being able to engage with your creative and child-like side of you- parts of yourself that you might have forgotten in the midst of your busy and hectic life.
They can be particularly useful for:
- Children: Coloring mandalas can help children deal with stress related emotions and cope with illness. Instead of verbalizing their feelings, many children express themselves through color and art. It has also been found to be effective when used with adolescents
- People with a terminal illness: Studies show that mandala’s can be used to alleviate anxiety and depression in individuals who are also under treatment for cancer. The University of California at Irvine Cancer Center and the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center are two cancer centers that offer mandala workshops.
- People who want to quit smoking: For the same reason that many smokers take up knitting when they quit, coloring mandalas can keep your hands occupied and help relieve stress.
While mandalas can be used with various populations and can be very effective, mandalas are not for everyone. Coloring a mandala involves repetitive movements and gripping. This can cause pain in the case of individuals who struggle with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis in the fingers.
It can also cause pain because of repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel or pinched nerves if the posture of the individual is not correct.
In this guide we have explored the use of mandalas for anxiety and the different types of mandala activities that can help a person cope with stress and anxiety. We have also explored the use and application of mandalas in different populations.
Frequently asked questions related to “Mandala for anxiety: Efficacy and use”
What is the meaning of the mandala symbol?
A mandala is a symbol of the universe for Buddhists and Hindus traditions. Spiritual traditions use mandalas for meditation and the name ‘mandala’ in sanskrit means circle.
Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety?
Mandala’s have been incorporated in art therapy to be used on individuals who struggle with intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and depression. Studies have shown that mandala colouring has a significant impact on reducing anxiety on children, adults, and adolescence. It has also been used to reduce psychological distress on cancer patients and survivors.
How does mandala relieve stress?
The act of drawing or colouring a mandala is a meditative one done with mindful intent to engage and express yourself through patterns and colours.
Your mandala is your sacred circle, and it tells your story and your emotions. Children can use it to express themselves while people who are stressed can use it as a n activity to relieve stress and tension by stimulating creativity and releasing blocked emotions.
What does mandala do in your body?
Mandalas are symbols that are used for meditation, prayer, healing and art therapy for both adults and children. Clinical research and studies on Mandalas have found them to reduce stress and pain, lower blood pressure, promote sleep and ease depression.
The mindful act of engaging in mandala activities have been found to release dopamine or increase the levels of dopamine in the body which can have a positive effect on the overall sense of well-being in people.
What is a personal mandala?
A mandala is a circular geometric design that contains symbols that can be of a person’s inner self, principles,beliefs, and overall ideas about the world, other people, and themselves.
While the mandalas have their origins in buddhism and hinduism, there are no strict rules for the symbols to be a specific design. As mandalas have now been incorporated for therapeutic purposes the symbols and designs can be abstract or specific drawings that can be personal to the person.
Thus a personal mandala will have designs and specific patterns that are of people, places, and ideas that are central to a person’s life.