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Painting away stress: How a weekly online watercolour group is supporting people’s mental health during the Covid-19 crisis

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We think its safe to say that everyone is feeling some level of distress and anxiousness because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the way it has disrupted our lives. This is a perfectly normal and expected reaction. However, as the pandemic drags on the prolonged stress and anxiety can have detrimental effects on mental health, so its more important than ever to take time for ourselves and engage in effective stress management activity. Many of the people we support have said that they do not have access to their usual means of coping with stress because of physical distancing. Things like going to the gym, spending time with friends and family or participating in team sports are not an option right now. As a result, some are getting creative with their coping methods: they’re making art.

Every Wednesday at 11:45 am a group of community members gather on Zoom to experiment with watercolour painting. Barry Rich, a CMHA Volunteer and talented watercolour artist, demonstrates techniques and guides everyone step by step. Participants learn that they can create beautiful art with no experience and perhaps discover a bit of hidden talent. One participant says this about the group: “Barry’s watercolour class is fun, educational, and therapeutic. It can be whatever you want it to be for you and Barry gives you the freedom to learn from what he is doing or to just paint what you’re feeling at the moment. It’s also a great way to just meet new people, relax, and have a good time”.

The watercolour group isn’t new. Barry started the group a year and a half ago at the Kelty Dennehy Mental Health Resource Centre (KDMHRC) where the group was being offered twice weekly due to its popularity. When the KDMHRC closed due to Covid-19 on March 15th, Barry didn’t skip a beat getting the group set-up online.

“I look forward to the Watercolour Painting class all week…”, shares another group participant, “…the process of painting is very meditative, relieving my stress and anxiety”. This isn’t a coincidence; there’s a healthy body of research that shows creating visual art can reduce stress and promote relaxation. One study found that spending at least 45 minutes engaging in an art activity significantly reduces the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body, regardless of a person’s level of experience*.

CMHA Volunteer Coordinator MJ Moore has noticed another benefit of the watercolour group: a sense of community. “Friendships have developed, and the group is supporting each other through this challenging time”.

The Watercolour Group meets every Wednesday from 11:45 am – 2:00 pm on Zoom. If you want to participate, please email Barry at brich1@telus.net. Watercolour not your style? There are many other ways to get creative. Here are some ideas to get you started.

*Kaimal, Ray, & Muniz (2016). Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making. Journal of Art Therapy, 33(2): 74-80.


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