CRAVEN COUNTY, N.C. — Many frontline workers have dealt with a lot of pressure and anxiety caused by the unprecedented year of 2020.
“It's been very stressful,” Jennifer Lewis, laboratory director at CarolinaEast Medical Center, says. “We are responsible for the implementation of the new test for the COVID virus, especially. And worrying about our staff staying safe, worrying about our own self, worrying about our families. So, it's been very stressful this whole year.”
More people are finding that creativity is a good outlet to help manage this stress, and some frontline workers are turning to art therapy to release built-up tension.
Zulay Romero is an art therapist who experienced the challenges of COVID-19 first hand when she and her family caught the virus last year. Ever since then she has had an even bigger heart for these frontline workers.
“One day in the mail they just announced, 'hey we're struggling. We need prayers; we need support.' And so, I immediately was like 'I gotta do something,'” Romero says.
Romero decided to offer free art therapy sessions to employees at CarolinaEast Medical Center to specifically address COVID-related stress.
“Art therapy allows that exploration of what I'm feeling, when I'm feeling it, and how I'm feeling it,” she says.
Romero added it's often hard for people to put their frustrations into words, but art gives people a new way to communicate emotion.
“I'll tell them like, you don't have to talk to me. Lets just release everything, and as soon as they release, they're like 'this is what I released.' Because a lot of times we do hold onto that. And when we hold onto things mentally and emotionally, it becomes very physical,” she says.
Art therapists use a lot of different mediums from clay to watercolor, but Romero's personal favorite is collage, because it doesn't require perfection.
“A lot of times I do use collage interventions and call it release artwork, where they can choose images that relate to how they're feeling, thoughts that they've had that they just want to put on paper and leave on paper,” she says.
Art therapists can be found in many major cities in North Carolina, including Raleigh, Durham, and Asheville. However, Romero decided to return to her hometown in New Bern when she realized that many smaller cities have not yet taken advantage of the benefits art therapy offers. The American Art Therapy Association has more information about where art therapists are located and what kind of resources they provide.
Romero has one last piece of advice for those who are interested in art therapy: “Be as authentic as you possibly can. Like I said earlier, it's your story. It's no one else's, so whatever you create, don't think of it as is it good or is it bad. Think of it as I need this in this moment, and that's OK.”