Background and objectives: Anxiety disorders comprise the most common category of mental illness among US young adults. Art making might be one method to help reduce anxiety, but the few studies investigating this have used only subjective measures of anxiety.
Design: This study employed both subjective (self-reported state anxiety from the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) and objective (heart rate variability) measures to assess whether 30-minute periods of art making reduced anxiety in 47 first-year college students prior to their final examinations.
Methods: Students participated in free-form painting, mandala coloring, clay modeling, and control sessions.
Results: Repeated-measures ANOVA with post hoc analysis revealed significantly greater pre- to post-session reductions in anxiety for all three types of art-making sessions than for the control session, as measured objectively. Measured subjectively, only free-form painting yielded a significant decrease in anxiety compared to the control session.
Conclusions: Given the health benefits of anxiety reduction, further study is warranted to determine the duration of art making's anxiety-reducing effect.
Keywords: Anxiety; State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; art making; autonomic nervous system; heart rate variability.