How to Use Mandalas as Tools to Reduce Anxiety
Thursday, May 18 2017 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Mandalas make excellent tools to reduce anxiety. It’s becoming widely known and accepted that mandala coloring is a calming experience, quieting the racing thoughts of anxiety as well as soothing neurochemical activity in the brain and slowing the body’s physiological response to stress. Here are some suggestions for how you can go beyond basic coloring and use mandalas as tools to reduce anxiety.
Chances are when you read the word “mandala,” your mind conjures images of intricate patterns and designs, either in black and white or in full color. Traditionally, mandalas are in the shape of a circle, but sometimes they’re made in a different shape. Mandalas are typically abstract, but they can contain concrete elements such as animals, flowers, deities, and more.
Importantly, mandalas symbolize the universe. This could be the universe as a whole with all of its galaxies and other space things or it could be the universe seen in a grain of sand. The universe symbolized by the mandala could be the universe of human experiences as well as our own personal universe within.
How to Use Mandalas to Reduce Your Anxiety
The following exercises allow you to use a single tool, a mandala, in different ways to lower your anxiety. For all of the exercises, choose mandalas that appeal to you. You can purchase mandala coloring books or download free, printable designs.
- Your brain, your body -- Anxiety originates in the brain, but it invades the body causing physical symptoms. Contemplate where you experience anxiety. Does it manifest in digestive troubles, for example? Assign a color to each area of the body, and fill in a mandala accordingly. If you assign headaches the color red and you have trouble with headaches, use red to color much of the mandala. If you assign your skin the color green and have little trouble with sweating or rashes, don't use much green when coloring. Doing this exercise will help you tune in closely to your body and target anxiety treatment to the correct areas.
- Your ideal life -- Anxiety can skyrocket when we, for whatever reason, are unable to create the life we value. This is a part of existential anxiety and has to do with the quality of living. This anxiety is hard to pinpoint and thus hard to deal with. Using mandalas can help. Use two identical mandalas for this exercise. Brainstorm a list of life areas that are important to you, such as family, career, social connections, financial security, hobbies, spirituality, and more. Assign a different color to each concept. Now, color in the first mandala to represent your ideal balance, a universe in which you would feel centered and nearly anxiety-free. For example, would you like to spend more time with family than at work? Next, color in the second mandala to represent your current reality. When you’re done, compare the two. If your current life is proportioned far differently than your ideal one, you can use this mandala as a starting point to make changes that will lower anxiety and increase life satisfaction.
- Controlling worry -- Sometimes anxious thoughts are overwhelming and it's difficult to control them. Ignoring them doesn't work. Fighting them only makes them stronger. You can use your mandalas as a way to control your worries. Choose a mandala and select a worry. Focusing on just one is ideal, but if your mind wanders to include more anxieties, that's fine. Set a timer for, say, 10 minutes, and begin to color. As you work on your mandala, allow your mind to mull over your worry. You will undoubtedly feel anxious, and that's okay. When the timer ends, so does your worry time. Switch to a different color (or set of colors), and complete the mandala. When your worry surfaces, consciously replace it with a different, positive, thought. With this exercise, you are allowing yourself to acknowledge your worries as well as shifting your activities and attention in order to replace them with less anxious thoughts.
Play around with these exercises, and adapt them to suit your own needs and personality. Use coloring mandalas to reduce anxiety in the immediate moment, or use these mandala exercises on a regular basis over time. Your universe is your own. It belongs to you. The way you use mandalas as anxiety management tools is in your hands.