On September 21 + 22, the Renting the Rain team attended Anime Weekend Atlanta as members of the press. We’d like to thank the AWA staff for providing us passes & access to press resources that made our in-kind partnership coverage possible.
Puvithel Rajan is a self-defined designer, artist and engineer. Exploring connections between art and mental health is quite simply put, her thing. On September 21, Rajan presented Coping through Art- Yamikawaii/Menhera to a room of Anime Weekend Atlanta con-goers.
“I feel like if I had found pills cute before, I wouldn’t have struggled with the phobia [of taking medication],” said Rajan of the style “menhera” that often portrays medical motifs, such as pills and bandaids, in approachable and aesthetic pastels. Through these motifs, the style doubles as an activism movement.
Menhera is one of many interconnections that exist between art and mental health. Today in the Rain, we’ll explore the science behind art and mental health. We’ll also go more into detail concerning menhera fashion and a total of 3 healthy ways to use self-expression to improve your own mental health, daily. 🙂
So buckle up! And get ready to treat yourself to a mental health day.
1) Word Art and Mental Health
Self-Expression through Words
Feelings can be overwhelming. It’s next to impossible to come up with a feel-better plan when your emotions are still in turmoil. Thankfully, sharing your feelings via words can help you feel better and come up with a logical plan, too.
Expressing your emotions can even reduce their impact. In one fMRI study detailed in The Upward Spiral, participants were shown photos of emotional facial expressions. However, after naming the emotion, participant emotional amygdala reactivity was reduced. Those who named the emotion subsequently felt it less.
Another study from a 1993 issue of Psychother Psychosom had similar results. Both nonverbal and verbal expression of emotion resulted in immediate reductions in autonomic nervous system activity. It was shown that expressing traumatic experiences resulted in increased overall and mental health.
Next time you’re “freaking out,” try naming your emotions. You can do this out loud, or try my favorite tactic and jot them down in a journal. Pressing my frustration down with ink instantly relieves my stress’ physical discomfort. I personally love a good soft cover moleskin for this exercise!
To Vent or Not to Vent?
Despite this, there’s a lot of debate over whether or not “venting” and expressing frustration or anger is healthy. Have you ever felt like crying or screaming into a pillow is the only way to lessen your feelings? Cathartic release is a popular but debated technique.
One study from Brad J. Bushman of Iowa State University contradicts the catharsis theory. Participants encouraged to ruminate on negative thoughts were more aggressive than those encouraged to do nothing.
But does doing nothing encourage “bottling up” your feelings? Doing so isn’t beneficial for your health, either. According to Matthew MacKinnon on Mindfulness MD, “forced positive states or suppressed negative states are extremely psychologically taxing on an individual and cannot be sustained for long.” Elasticity, he claims, is the key to determining constructive ways to self-express.
So next time you feel the need to vent, don’t feel bad! Take a few deep breaths and gather your thoughts. Feel confident in expressing yourself to those you trust in a constructive and healthy way.
2) Menhera: a Fashion Movement on Mental Health
Looking for a more visual way to self-express? Wearing menhera fashion can be a healthy and fun way to pair art and mental health. Here are some examples of menhera fashion:
The style also doubles as a social movement fighting against mental health stigmas. Through menhera, “we want to de-stigmatize the tools used [to treat] mental health,” said Rajan at her 2018 Anime Weekend Atlanta panel, Coping through Art- Yamikawaii/Menhera.
The style doesn’t only feature medical motifs as a way to de-stigmatize treatment. In order to qualify as menhera fashion, clothing pieces must be focused on comfort and able to be worn by the “chronically ill and low-energy people,” (Rajan, Coping through Art- Yamikawaii/Menhera).
That doesn’t mean you have to be ill or low-energy to wear it, though! As Rajan’s presentation clarified:
Menhera isn’t ‘dressing-up’ as someone who is ill, menhera rather is normal clothing that features serious and/or dark topics with cute motifs.Rajan, Coping through Art- Yamikawaii/Menhera
Has mental health stigma affected how you view medical help? Maybe menhera can help de-stigmatize necessary medical tools for you-like it did for Rajan. You can learn more about menhera and explore the community behind it at FYMenhera, the “number one English source for all things menhera!”
Special thanks to Puvithel Rajan for making this portion of the article possible, and for inspiring it with her panel as a whole. You can find her at conventions such as KumoriCon and Hyper Japan as well as online on Instagram and Etsy. I’m definitely grabbing one of these “Gay Agenda Pride Flag” pins from her soon. 😍
3) Curating a safe space with art
Phew-here we are at our last method to marry art and mental health! How do you feel about having a safe space?
For me, having a safe space to relax in and return to is essential. Depending on where you are in life, you might have your own house, apartment, room, or dorm. Even if you currently share a room with others, it’s still possible to make your space conducive to your mental health, with art!
One 2010 study from East Alabama Hospital found that visual art could help reduce mental health patient anxiety and agitation. Patients exposed to “restorative nature scene” art required smaller amounts of pro re nata (PRN) medication from their nurses.
Not a mental health patient? Don’t ignore this study! Whether or not you need external help for your mental health right now, this finding can still help you instill calm and wellness in your life.
If you still feel agitated in your room or personal space, try decorating it with pieces of art or items that make you feel calm. Not into landscapes? Don’t worry! Search for something that suits your tastes while focusing on cultivating a space of rejuvenation. My favorite safe space items include faerie lights and refreshing candles.
I know, I know! That was a lot of information. But can you really say you aren’t excited to try being more in tune with your thoughts, or curating your own safe space at home? When it comes down to it, self-expression makes you you, and it can make you feel healthy, too.
There’s one, professional area we’ve yet to talk about when it comes to art and mental health. Ready to delve even further into expression and mental health? Let’s take a quick look at art therapy.
The pairings that exist between art and mental health are simply endless. Ever heard of art therapy? According to Psychology Today, art therapy “involves the use of creative techniques…to help people express themselves artistically and examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art.”
While many of the above exercises could therefore qualify as art therapy, it’s important to note that there are registered art therapists qualified to lead you through similar exercises in therapy sessions. If you’re interested in getting a more guided introduction to art therapy, find a registered art therapist and try a session today.
Best case, you find a type of therapy that works for you. And if it doesn’t work out? Go on home to your safe space and curl up with some beautiful lights and lovely candles. You got this either way.