All is Calm, All is Brighter

In a weekly workshop, counselor Kara Ashley-Gilmore shows participants how simple art projects can relieve anxiety. Photo by Tim Robison

In a weekly workshop, counselor Kara Ashley-Gilmore shows participants how simple art projects can relieve anxiety. Photo by Tim Robison

Creativity gives perspective to our problems, and “the insights that come to us as we are being creative are the keys to our personal growth,” says Kara Ashley-Gilmore, a licensed counselor and art therapist who helps stressed people manage overwhelming situations.

The founder of Mountain Creative Arts, a counseling practice in downtown Hendersonville, Ashley-Gilmore — among her other services — hosts “Art for Anxiety,” a support group for adults. Acceptance of anxiety as a necessary emotion and techniques for grounding and centering are among the weekly topics.

You like to differentiate between anxiety and fear. What is the difference?

Anxiety is more long-term, focused, and future-oriented stress not grounded in the present moment. Fear is an auto-response mechanism that happens quickly and in the moment. Both have similar physical and emotional reactions in our bodies. In my class, we learn to identify the triggers that bring about fear and anxiety, as well as learning a map of the body to help show where the stress directly affects us.

One reason people feel anxious these days is because they are incredibly busy — and the rush of the holidays doesn’t help. So how can someone manage to take the time for an art class? It seems like a Catch-22.

Exactly. This is the perfect example of a paradoxical situation which a person cannot seem to escape, and is definitely a sign indicating someone needs to manage their stress. It begins with a person becoming aware of this, and then being willing to take care of themselves — their own needs and wants.

What techniques do you use?

The group sessions are structured. By connecting with other people who are experiencing similar issues, members feel less isolated by their symptoms. I lead the group through a guided meditation or breathing exercise … and there’s a different lesson each week, along with discussions and a simple art project using paints and craft materials, which helps to integrate the lesson.

Do you have to be naturally talented, or have a background in art, to join the group?

Not at all. It’s open to everyone, with or without art and creativity in their background. The projects are simple — if you can cut, paste, and hold a utensil, you can complete them. We make collages, abstract watercolors, cards with a twist similar to origami, and more. Each project uses symbols and colors to illustrate the feelings related to the evening’s lesson topic.

No anxiety, then, about how the project turns out …

At the beginning of each class there’s a “studio agreement.” The group [must approach] art for the process, not for the final project. No comments or judgments are to be made about your own or someone else’s artwork. This eliminates the stress of any critique.

“Art for Anxiety” is an ongoing class held at Mountain Creative Arts (307 N. Main St., suites 9 and 10) every Wednesday through the rest of the year, and likely into 2017. 6:30-8pm, materials included. $10 per session. To register, call 828-595-3847 or e-mail Kara Ashley-Gilmore at

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