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Creative Brain Dump

Contributed by 
Bridget Steed; Art by Julie Norton


Children ages 10+




Creative Brain Dump is useful in times of high stress, anxiety, or worry, as a way to move heavy emotions or cognitions out and regulate the body fairly quickly.


Emotions that are denied or suppressed can end up getting stored in the body and, ultimately, feel much bigger and cause more issues and distress. This directive is a fairly easy, straight-forward way to get pent up energy and emotions out of the body and onto the page or canvas. The result is that they may feel less scary or overwhelming when seen in the form of art or words on a page.


Gather a piece of paper or a canvas (the larger the better, but work with what you have) along with an assortment of either colored markers, crayons, colored pencils or oil pastels. Please note that paint is not typically recommended for this, particularly watercolor, as the fluidity of the medium could provide too sensory an experience for someone already experiencing intense feelings and may end up “flooding” or overwhelming one with emotion. It is always important to notice how you feel when using various art materials and to stick with those that make you feel better, not worse. 

If it feels safe to do so, take a moment to close your eyes and tune into how you are feeling in your body. You can do this with your eyes open as well. 

Things to consider:

  • What sensations are you noticing?

  • Where in your body do you feel those?

  • Do those sensations have a temperature? Texture? Color? Name?

Next, open your eyes and use your art materials to express the sensations that came up onto your paper or canvas. Allow whatever comes up to come up without judgment or with a focus on how it looks. Instead, tune in to how the experience feels. Allow your body to move while you do this if that feels right. The point is to allow all of the “stuff” that is flooding your brain and, consequently, affecting your body, to get “dumped” into your art. 

Once you feel complete, allow yourself to dialogue with your art piece, either saying aloud or writing down your answers. 

Questions to consider while dialoging:

  • What does your piece have to tell you?

  • What do you want to tell your piece?

  • If your piece had a title or a name, what would it be?

  • How do you feel in your body when you look at your piece? 

Now that your difficult or overwhelming emotions are safely onto your canvas or paper, create a “home, nest, or cave” for them using whatever materials you have on hand (cardboard, tissue paper, construction paper, sticks, rocks, etcetera). Make sure that your art piece can fit inside it’s new home (fold it or even crumple it up if that feels right).

Lastly, place your “creative brain dump” into its new home and allow it to take a little vacation for an hour, day, or a week (whatever you need!) by placing it somewhere out of sight. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, or panic, take out your piece and allow it to remind you that those troubling  emotions (while trying to protect you) are on a little vacation right now. Maybe even say to them out loud, “Thank you. I know you’re trying to protect me but I don’t need you right now. You’re not helpful, so I’ve sent you off on a little vacation. I’ll let you know when I need you again.” Create a new “brain dump” whenever you feel you need one. 

*Note: It is to be stressed that difficult emotions are allowed and can be felt and experienced, but then they can also be allowed to move through and out of you. Letting them consume you or take over is not healthy or helpful. 

Expressive Arts and Recovery

Return to Expressive Arts to see more exercises and activities.

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