Deal With Stress

Can Doodling Relieve Stress?

journaling to beat stressDo you like to doodle? If you do, you might already have a handy method to relieve stress right at the tip of your fingers. I happened to see a notice in our newspaper about a course in Zen drawing and Zen doodling at our local college, and decided to take a look.

Meditating with pencil or pen.

The style of pencil or watercolor sketches called Zen drawing is very different from Zen doodling, but each one encourages the idea of the drawing experience as a form of meditation. Zen drawing encourages us to really look at the physical world, and lets our pencils be guided by what we see. Freestyle Zen doodling allows our pens to roam along with what we see in our minds, expecting no particular outcome or form.

Originally introduced by the late Frederick Franck, Zen drawing is as much about developing our awareness as it is transcribing what we see. His book Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation is a lovely guide to this calm and open hearted way of looking at the world. Today Dutch artist Michelle Dujardin continues the tradition, inspired by his work.

There are no mistakes.

One aim of both Zen drawing and Zen doodling is to focus our attention on the process of creating, rather than our results. As a consequence, when you do Zen drawing or doodling, there are no mistakes. Instead you just see where the new line takes you, and what else you can now create.

In our results oriented world, a lot of our stress in life comes from the fear of making mistakes. So letting go to just doodle for the sake of it is not as easy to do as it sounds. Since drawing or doodling are both activities that require patience and attention, though, doing them lets us slip into that zone of concentrated effort, where the rest of the world can slip away.

The Zentangle® Method: A More Disciplined Approach

Not everyone can just let go and scribble away without a goal. Some people need structure before they can truly relax. Enter Zentangle®, a set of intricate doodle patterns that must be taught. The patterns give would-be doodlers a groundwork to express themselves, and a way to let go of stress as they create something new.

On their website, Zentangle® founders Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts explain that they wanted to create a system that would allow others to experience the meditative power of creating repetitive patterns that they discovered for themselves. The learned patterns teach doodlers to create what are called “strings”, which are filled in with repeatable designs, in a deliberate, disciplined way. The designs are all done with pen, and there are no erasers. As Roberts explains, “there are no erasers in life”; we make our marks on the world, and adapt as we go.

Thomas and Roberts are aware of the value of conscious discipline. It reminds me of pianists running scales, or ballet dancers at work at the bar, learning their craft. Discipline requires the mind to focus. It leads the doer into the flow of the experience, and builds the confidence to become more creative on their own. Focus reduces stress, and confidence helps keep it at bay. The discipline is part of why Thomas and Roberts call their method a “life practice,” not merely an artistic skill.

Taking a look

Zentangle® is wildly popular on sharing sites like Pinterest, and YouTube has plenty of instructional videos to try. The patterns may remind you of things you’ve seen before…Celtic swirls, Hindu henna tattoos, M.C. Escher geometric worlds. You can learn the fixed patterns, or follow the idea of freestyle Zen Doodling, scribbling to your heart’s content, but with an attitude of focused awareness.

You are never locked in to any one style. If simple doodling awakens a desire to do more, enjoy the summer outside with a pen or pencil, and take a fresh look at the world where you live. As Michelle Dujardin says, “it is about the experience of drawing,” that becomes your meditation and relieves your stress, not in trying to create a work of art.

To understand the phenomenon of Zen drawing and doodling, it needs to be seen and experienced. Describing it doesn’t really do it justice. Take a look for yourself at:, for the work of Michelle Dejardin, and information on her upcoming book., for examples and the story of the Zentangle® method.

If you found this article helpful, please let us know, and share us on your favorite social media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.