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Inside Out: Integrating Emotion and Action through Art

It’s ok to be angry. Feelings of all kinds have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. I used to think being angry was bad: it felt uncomfortable, it hurt, it made me hot and sweaty. Sometimes I was ashamed of the intensity of my feelings.

Nowadays, I wake up and listen to several news podcasts about the coronavirus, and each morning I learn that the White House has failed to adequately respond to the dire needs of patients, hospitals and the general public. Each morning I have gotten increasingly angry. The trouble is, my anger often leads to feeling helpless. I need to learn more about the role of anger during a crisis. How can I get through my emotions? How can I learn from them and take action?

“Anger alerts you to circumstances that are unjust and tells you that you’re having a reaction to something that should not be as it is.” -Dr. Mary Lamia.

On Friday April 3rd, Rachel Maddow fervently demanded a set of direct and immediate actions the president needs to take:

  • Announce binding national policy and firm national guidance to governors and mayors.

  • Federalize on your authority all needed supplies and resources and facilities needed to test, trace, isolate, triage, treat and ultimately bury coronavirus victims.

  • Oversee a massive production, procurement, purchasing, maintenance, allocation, distribution and redistribution system for those critical resources.

  • Mobilize the defense transportation system to move critical resources around the country.

  • Aggressively use the Defense Production Act.

  • Address the death trap conditions that exist in senior and congregate living situations of all kinds, including nursing homes, long term care facilities, veteran homes, jails and prisons.

  • Let an experienced operations manager take the lead and fix this, right now.

I felt Ms. Maddow’s anger through my bones. This is a dire time. It’s ok to be angry. It helps us know we care, learn and act. I am learning about this. It takes practice.

In this blog, I share activities to help us process the strong emotions we feel inside. Then I share suggestions for families to build awareness about the pandemic and to take action.

Make Emotion Faces

We externalize our emotions through our bodies. Explore how bodies create emotions using body checks and mirrors. Write emotion words on strips of paper and take turns pulling them out of a hat. Say the word out loud and everyone creates that emotion. To do a body check, think about where we feel the emotion (we all feel it in different ways and places in our bodies). Think about the whole body, then concentrate on the face. Look in the mirror while showing that emotion. This can be difficult, even feel silly. That is ok. We also have the right to pass, and not create an emotion if we don’t feel comfortable.

Made with Playdough, Cork and found objects, Wood and metal.

Gather objects to create emotion faces with and invite exploration. We used this playdough recipe for ours. No cream of tartar in the kitchen? No problem! We made the cork faces with found objects around the house. And, Housing a Forest created faces with wood and metal bits from the garage.

As we recreate felt emotions through art, we draw awareness to our bodies (How do I show fear? What happens to my mouth, my eyes, my eyebrows? Where else do I feel fear? My throat, my tummy?). This process helps move emotions through the body, rather than getting them “stuck” inside. Awareness helps us manage difficult emotions, feel better, and enjoy ourselves and each other.

Build an Emotion Container

We can use containers to help us establish boundaries for our worries or other feelings and thoughts. A physical container allows us to touch, look at and hold a bounded space of safety. In the example below, Seven Ponds suggests making a love box to help process the grief from losing a loved one.

“To get through the trying processes of daily life we often need to “contain” our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Building containers metaphorically, verbally and visually gives concrete form and allows this process to come into our everyday self-awareness, and thus strengthen it.” Rita Klochkin, Art Therapist.

Love Box, Reprinted with permission by Seven Ponds.

Make a Self Portrait

Self portraits help us move from a concrete awareness of ourselves in our bodies to a representation that asserts who we are, both as a subject to contemplate and as a creator: an artist. Self portraits can help us navigate our emotions, moving through the world, and imagining ourselves as different characters or with different powers. As we recreate ourselves in portrait, we think about we we see ourselves and who we want to be. Perhaps it is time to explore the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on you through a self portrait.

by Maruska Lukeslova by 15 year old by Jeannette Maria

by Deborah Corrington, here

Check out this variety of self portraits you can make as a family!

Take Action

Lisa Wool-Rim Sjoblom, 2020. See her story on PBS.

As we learn from Pixar’s Inside Out, anger is just one of our emotions. We also have fear, disgust, sadness and joy. If we listen to this range of feelings, and how they manifest in our bodies, we can be better prepared to take action–to make the world better–from a place of confidence and clarity. Here are some ways to harness our emotions for good:

  • Learn about the impact of the Coronavirus on essential, low-paid women workers.

  • Learn about the impact of Cornavirus-fueled racism on Asian people, from the perspective of artist Sjoblom who created the portrait above.

  • Make a face mask for yourself and your loved ones. (Search YouTube for tutorials using only some fabric and a hairband.)

  • Contact congressional leaders and the president by letter, email, fax, social media. Let them know you are a young person. Be courteous. Use facts and research. Demand action.

  • Find new ways to collaborate through art and to join a national discussion with other youth. Document our emotions about vital COVID-19 concerns, and keep our relationships and connectedness alive.

Featured Artist: Ricardo Levins Morales

Pandemic Animals, Ricardo Levins Morales, 2020.

Ricardo Levins Morales describes himself as a “healer and trickster organizer disguised as an artist.” He was born into the anti-colonial movement in his native Puerto Rico and was drawn into activism in Chicago when his family moved there in 1967. His work engages healing of individual, collective and historical trauma.

Download the FREE full set of coloring pages and discussion questions through the Anti-Defamation League. Check out Mr. Morales’ beautiful images in full color here.

Reflection Questions about Intense Emotions

  • (Talk to the emotion) What is your name? Where have you come from? Why have you come here? What have you come to tell me? Is there anything important I should know about you?

  • (Talk to ourselves) What do you need? What do you want? What would make you feel happier? What don’t you want? Do you feel like you need to give up something to get what you want? How might you go about meeting that need? Is there a part of you where this need feels met?

  • Explore these questions while making art with this video by Consciousness through Art.

  • Explore these questions while breathing through a mindfulness technique. My favorite is finger tracing.

A final note. Even covering our faces, which prevents many displays of emotion, can show care and concern. We can smile with our eyes!

Please wear face coverings: “It (a face mask) should be seen as a badge of honor. If I’m wearing a mask out in public, it means I’m concerned about you, I’m concerned about my neighbors, I’m concerned about strangers on the chance that I’m infectious. I want to do my part in limiting how I might impact you.” says Dr. Allan, Harvard University. #wearmasksinpublic #inittogether #weshallovercome

Sharon Chappell, PhD, is the Executive and Artistic Director of Well Beings Studio. She is a teacher, breast cancer survivor, parent and artist. 

If you would like to contribute to this blog (family activities for emotional well-being, your thoughts on the arts and healing, your artwork), please contact

Mental health is important. If you need support, contact The US Health and Human Services Department will help you talk about your concerns, and connect you with resources, such as a therapist or hotline. You can also visit your local 211 website (in Orange County, CA ours is If you are in crisis, please dial 911.

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