Student Voices: Visiting Museums to Calm Anxiety

By Evelyn Gutierrez, Current Student, UCSB

Calming anxiety can be a real challenge. I know because I have dealt with anxiety for a decade now. For the first number of years navigating my anxiety, I had trouble figuring out how to calm myself when having an anxiety attack, or when my anxiety accumulated over time to the point where I needed several days off to get back to “normal”. This caused me to miss school and work many days, and I didn’t want this to continue, especially when I started going to community college.

This is me standing in front of Henri Matisse’s La Gerbe. It was exciting!

It was then that a professor suggested I explore Los Angeles. I had lived in Southeast LA my whole life, but never actually explored the city and learn about the arts and culture it has to offer. He suggested I begin with visiting museums; that way, I’m exploring the city and learning about various art pieces at the same time.

A museum I had always wanted to go to was LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). I saw someone post a picture of themselves in front of Henri Matisse’s La Gerbe. I thought the painting was mesmerizing, and wanted to see it in person. I decided to drive over early and explore the museum for as many hours as I could.

When I arrived, I felt an anxiety attack brewing because I was surrounded by so many people who seemed to know more about art that myself. I stopped in my tracks, took deep breaths, and told myself that it’s okay not to know about it seeing as it was my first time there.

 Miracle Mile at LACMA. I found it so pretty and mesmerizing.

I gave myself a few more minutes to compose myself and went off to explore. I found myself immersed in the artwork, so much so that I was no longer thinking about my anxiety, or the things that had been stressful over the past few days. Even better, I didn’t experience any anxiety attacks for about two weeks after, simply because thinking about the artwork calmed me so much.

Now that I’m at university, when I feel an anxiety attack coming on, I look at the pictures I took of the artworks at LACMA and other museums I’ve visited. My anxiety can be a lot tougher to handle since I went from 18-week semesters to 10-week quarters, but looking at something that’s not an essay or homework assignment full of color really calms me down.

Rey de Sol by Therman Statom, another of my favorites!

I find it easier to look at art instead of actually creating it because I don’t feel any pressure. Whenever I try to draw or dance, I get upset or frustrated at how I’m not getting anything perfect (which is the reason why I dropped a dance class after two lectures in community colleges). Whereas the thoughts I have when looking at artwork are correct in my mind because they are my interpretation of it. Each person has a different interpretation when looking at art, which makes it that much easier to feel okay with what mine is and calm my anxiety whenever I feel it brewing.

What museums have you visited recently? Has art played the same role for you?

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