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Saturday, April 13, 2024

UC Davis students use art as a form of stress relief

How artistic activities can be used to combat overwhelming winters 


By JULIANA MARQUEZ ARAUJO — features@theaggie.org


The start of winter quarter, albeit a fresh start, comes with a set of new challenges. To students, it may symbolize the beginning of the most jam-packed and intense quarter of the whole school year. While some students experience no effect from the changing seasons, it is difficult to ignore the significant level of increased stress that many students undergo during winter. 

This phenomenon may relate to the condition known as “seasonal depression,” where people feel a weight of sadness caused by a specific season in the year. Students feel just how short the winter days are as they sit in class watching the sun go down before 5 p.m. This dark and gloomy weather is then followed by the loss of motivation and overwhelming feelings of defeat. 

“I definitely do experience seasonal depression,” Larissa Fitzhugh, a first-year sustainable agriculture and food systems major, said. “It tends to take more time and energy to do the same amount of work I can do during other times of the year.”

She claimed that in order to succeed academically, she has had to sacrifice her own mental well-being. Many students share this sentiment, as it can be difficult to pay attention to one’s health when schoolwork piles up. However, in the midst of a stressful period, finding awareness through expressing creativity with art can be liberating. 

Art comes in plenty of forms. Some enjoy writing poetry, others prefer to draw or paint. Music, dance, photography — these activities bring out positive emotions in people, or allow them to release negative ones.

“I like to crochet, it is a nice way to relax and do something I enjoy,” Fitzhugh said. “It is also nice to have a physical finished product I can be proud of when I am done. It makes me feel good even when I don’t initially think it will.”

There is more to the process of art than the journey of the creation. While not every result will or has to be perfect, it is satisfying to know that one has created, released or learned something. The positive change in moods will always reveal itself in the end.

Numerous students are aware of their lack of attention to their mental health. The hard part is knowing how to move forward.

“I want to learn to read my body and my mental state more to determine when I need to separate myself from school work,” Chris Meza, a first-year music major, said. 

Realizing when it is important to take a break from things that are causing one mental distress is vital to that individual’s health. After all, no grade is worth sacrificing mental stability. The mindset that the end result is worth the struggle is not always healthy. To some individuals, it can be draining. 

Participating in an artistic exercise may help people realize that the world does not end after a bad grade. Getting in touch with one’s artistic side guides these individuals in understanding that life means so much more than one single commitment.

Meza claimed that college is not the sole priority in student’s lives, and oftentimes, it gets challenging having to balance every other factor with schoolwork, especially when it takes so much time out of one’s day. 

During these frustrating times, academic-oriented students can find themselves ignoring their own hobbies or activities that bring joy into their life for a “more important” goal — this being their grades. 

What many students fail to realize is that ignoring their emotional health often backfires.

“I usually lose almost all my motivation to do my best in my classes and instead, I just do the bare minimum without even trying to push myself,” Meza said. “And usually with this, it also ties into my hobbies, where I begin to not do those anymore. I lose the motivation to even try enjoying my hobbies.”

Giving up on one factor ties into other important factors. Picture a line of dominoes collapsing on each other. Taking breaks is key to succeeding and being satisfied with how one succeeds. 

“When I kind of just need a break from everything, I’ll either pull out my piano or guitar and just play some songs I already know or if I’m up for it, I’ll learn a whole new song,” Meza said. “It’s one of the ways I’m able to just relax and play whatever feels right. Sometimes, I’ll just pull together some random chords and play a pattern of some sort.”

Making a habit of exploring musical instruments, like Meza does, creates excitement in the practice. This generates a purpose in life outside of academics. The wonderful thing about art is how subjective it is. Consequently, there is little desire for the finished result to be of the best quality, as art can be personal, so there is no need for it to be judged.

Leilani Velasco, a first-year landscape architecture major, shared the process of her sketches and how it promotes relaxation.

“You can put on music as a background and go with the flow,” Velasco said. “Drawing, in my opinion, is one of those hobbies that doesn’t require a lot of thought or stress, unless you want it to.”

She claimed that art should be beneficial in an emotional sense. There is a familiar comfort when participating in these activities. When someone associates drawing or music with peace and relaxation, that same soothing feeling resurfaces each time it is exercised. 

Velasco shared other healing aspects that come with the process of creating art.

“For sketches, I like to go ride my bike and go look for buildings I can draw throughout the school. You can sit outside that building for hours and just observe every detail, even everyone that’s walking by. It’s so healing to me, in so many different ways.”

An artistic approach to mitigating stress is not only beneficial, but necessary. It is never too late to make a change in an unhealthy routine and break free from winter’s gloom.


Written by: Juliana Marquez Araujo — features@theaggie.org


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