Relieving stress through art

By Katie Demeria

WOODSTOCK — Linda Lutz of New Market was having a hectic day. After running around town, she was worried her dog had made a mess at her house. Skipping her painting class in order to save time, though, was not an option.

“I’ve got to come,” Lutz said. “It relieves my stress.”

Lutz is one of many other local men and women who participate in the Paint-Your-Own-Canvas Senior Art Class. Suzanne Soliday of Suzanne’s Studio in Strasburg teaches the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation class at the county’s government center.

For Soliday, Lutz and the other participants, the class allows them to channel their creativity — and it especially helps to relieve stress.

“I tell them to give up trying to be perfect,” Soliday said. “It’s about joy. And hopefully they can tackle life without trying to be perfect, too.”

According to Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Brenda Johnston, attempting to combat stress is one of the best things a person can do for their overall health.

“If you think about why stress is bad, remember it impacts almost every organ system,” Johnston said.

When the body becomes stressed, she continued, the flight or fight response is triggered. The heart rate increases, as does blood pressure and the overall demand on the body.

“So when you’re stressed and you’ve got that hyperactive response, your body says, I only need certain organs. I need brain, heart, but I don’t need the kidneys, I don’t have to worry about digesting food,” she said.

It is the decreased functioning in the digestive system that causes people to put on weight when they are stressed, according to Johnston. They feel bloated, fatigued and sluggish.

Those symptoms have severe impacts on the mood, as well. People whose bodies are not functioning as well due to stress will sometimes suffer from depression.

“There’s no health without mental health,” Johnston said. “It’s absolutely essential that we all have some way to be able to de-stress, be able to let that stress go.”

For Sherry Symons of Woodstock, another participant in Soliday’s class, painting with others allows her an outlet. She recognizes how relaxed she feels when it is over.

“It really is fun art, not fine art, like Suzanne says. And in the end, you have nobody to please but yourself,” Symons said. “You do your own thing.”

Soliday said painting works by creating a foundation with a base color and building from there. Those same principles, she continued, should be applied to life.

“We have our foundation, and we can keep building on it,” she said. “We’re not done, we’re all still works in progress.”

Both Symons and Lutz have participated in the classes before, returning because they noticed how good it made them feel. First time participant Judy Wildman of Edinburg said she joined because she wanted to learn something new and have a creative outlet.

Wildman said she considers creativity to be very important because “it feeds all things.”

“When you’re creating something, it’s unique, it’s satisfying, it’s encouraging in every other area of your life,” Wildman said. “Whether it’s gardening, painting, knitting, or photography. It’s very useful.”

Johnston said everybody has different ways of combating their stress, from exercise to painting or designing, and those should be important parts of everyday life. She is part of a band that helps her fight stress.

“It uses a different part of your brain, and it really works,” she said. “We all need that. It’s all about balance. You have to have balance in your life.”

Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation is still offering classes with Soliday. To find out more, go to or

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or

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