Going to a Museum = Anxiety relief?

As we navigate through anxiety there are places along the journey that we find respite. Maybe you have a favorite beach location, a park you like to walk in, a game you like to play, a food you like to eat. How about a museum? It never occurred to me that it might be a way to relieve anxiety but according to an article I found here ,it might.

From the article: “Art museums have great potential to positively impact people, including reducing their stress, enhancing positive emotional experiences, and helping people to feel less lonely and more connected,” researcher Katherine Cotter told Hyper allergic. The study, titled “Art Museums As Institutions for Human Flourishing,” was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology by Cotter and James O. Pawelski of the University of Pennsylvania.”

Further: “They discovered that visiting a museum reduced stress levels, frequent visits decreased anxiety, and viewing figurative art lowered blood pressure. They also found that museum visits lowered the intensity of chronic pain, increased a person’s life span, and lessened the likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia. And people living with dementia saw mental and physical benefits as well: Spending time in a museum induced more dynamic stress responses, higher cognitive function, and improvements in the symptoms of depression.”

Maybe someday Anxiety will be a thing of the past only found in museums

Those are some serious claims. Honestly it’s hard to make the connection myself but I am not a researcher in the field. That said it is logical to assume the findings are accurate as a museum gives you an opportunity to be in public with others, admiring the same thing. You have a shared experience and want, meaning you are all here to appreciate whatever the museum holds and that in of its self is reassuring.

Anytime you can be in a public venue with like-minded people that is helpful. The clams lowering chronic pain, increasing life span etc.? those seem like stretches to me. I’d like to see a larger sample to prove out the data but I don’t take the article as complete hogwash either. Studies don’t get published unless there is minimally good controls and the researchers are of some merit. Yes, the data is probably being vetted now by other psychologists comparatively with their own research.

That said, as a non-psychologist dealing with anxiety we take any morsel of info we can get to help us along the way. So maybe visit a museum or two this year. Make it an annual rite for yourself, perhaps it will help with anxiety and the many other issues discussed in the article.

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Shame and Anxiety

One of the dirty secrets of having anxiety is the shame associated with it. Now it has improved a great deal recently but inherently and culturally there is a certain shame associated with being afflicted with anxiety. The stigma of being weak or the whisper of “something isn’t right” affects people a great deal. Shame is a very powerful emotion and has been used to great effect in history to garner a desired outcome.

It’s important to define what shame is. Shame is: “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, and ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another”

Embarrassed Shame GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I found a good article on Psychology today here about anxiety and shame

From the article: “Anxiety disorders are generally categorized based on symptoms and behavioral expressions, such as psychological disorganization, irritability, nonspecific fears, sleep difficulties, panicky feelings, or an inability to concentrate. Yet any given state of anxiety can be best understood by distinguishing it in terms of the emotions that are involved in the experience. Shame is an emotion that is prominent in states of anxiety and often goes undetected as it hides in the shadow of the experience.” 

Shame is a natural consequence of anxiety because we worry what other people think. It would be easy, actually cavalier for me to say “you can’t control what people think so don’t worry about it”. Of course I just said it because it’s an extremely powerful concept to strive for. It’s likely you will never achieve it but it’s a worthy aim.

Quick story on the concept. When I was younger in my 20’s I remember not being able to find my car in a parking lot I was freaking out inside and I had  2 people approach me and ask me if I was okay. It was clear my anxiety was taking over, others sensed it. I was cringing inside, I refused the help, I found my car and I sat there for a half hour calming myself. I remember thinking “these people think I am crazy”. At that moment I was.

Shame had seeped into my emotional process. It prolonged my recovery from that episode. Was it merited? I don’t know, I as unable at that moment to dismiss these strangers from my mind. I kept thinking about what they were saying about me. I wondered for days what their conversation was on the ride home. How they must have mocked me etc. I never saw them again, and 20 years has passed…

Shame is horrible, and it is a component in anxiety. If you are feeling shame its okay you aren’t alone. Identify its source, write it down if needed and really consider why you feel shame and what the source is. You will get through it, things will improve, you are safe, and you doing great, one day at a time.

Are you interested in more posts on Anxiety? Check out one of my previous posts here.