• Susan Ward

Self Guided Mental Wellness Tours (Visitors)

Painting in a museum builds mental wellness
Create art and calm the soul!

Museums are intriguing! Inviting! Amazing! Inspirational! And, museums can help visitors with their own mental wellness.

Studies show that visiting museums can help us live longer. "According to the team from UCL, people who occasionally visit museums, theatres and galleries are more likely to be in better all-round health and, therefore, stand a greater likelihood of living past the mean average life expectancy." (Researchers Suggest That Museum Visits Lead to Longer Lives)

As museum visitors, however, it's possible to increase the positive impact of a museum visit by integrating one or more mental wellness activities into your visit. Which of these will you try during your next cultural visit?

Building emotional learning

We all manage life better when we are tuned into our own feelings as well as those around us whether that's friends, significant others, co-workers, or neighbors. As you walk through museums, when looking at art, try to identify feelings. These could be feelings that you notice in the face and body language of people in portraits. Or, you might look at a painting of a landscape and consider what feelings that painting evokes in you -- joy, sorrow, anticipation? Museums are a great place to people watch! Sit on a bench in a gallery or in the gardens and notice people as they wander past. What might they be feeling? What do you notice about the pace of their walk, their hand gestures, their tone of voice? The more we practice identifying feelings, the better we are at identifying and responding to our own, and the feelings of others.

Another way to build emotional learning involves taking pictures. Pick an emotion of the day -- sadness, joy, excitement, anger... As you go through the historic site, garden, or museum, snap a few pictures that represent that emotion. It will give you a new perspective for observing the art and objects around you. And, after the visit, you may have new insights as to not only the museum, but your own interactions with those emotions in relation to your visit.


The word "mindful" has become rather overused. However, it's a reminder to be focused on what's happening in the here and now, rather than worrying about the past or being anxious about the future. The more mindful, the more in-the-moment we are, the calmer our nervous system becomes, and the more we enjoy our surroundings!

As you visit a museum, historic site, zoo, gallery, or botanical garden, put your phone away. If your mind drifts to work or family or bills or laundry or dinner, stop! Shift back to the object or the view or the art in front of you and become intently involved in what you're looking at, hearing, and learning. This shifting from stressful thoughts to calmness builds resilience and our ability to deal with future stress.

Sketching (even if you're bad at it!)

"Sitting (or standing!) with a pad and pencil, drawing something you see or imagine requires focus and a relatively quiet mind, something many of us are looking to cultivate." (Drawing can help you think and focus better — even if you're not good at it)

Part of mental wellness comes from trying new things and a sense of accomplishment. Bring along a small notebook and a pen or pencil and give it a go! Sketch a design on a cut-velvet chair, or the pattern that the bricks create on the garden path, or the marble fountain outside the entryway, or the shadow of a tree on the nearby grass. Whether you're good at it or bad at it doesn't matter. What you're trying to do is grow your mental wellness through awareness, mindfulness, and a sense of accomplishment.

"While you're cementing memories of a museum visit, vacation destination, or just an ordinary day, you're paying much more attention to your surroundings than you would normally." (Drawing can help you think and focus better — even if you're not good at it)


A sense of accomplishment builds mental wellness and resiliency. That sense of accomplishment can come from visiting a museum you've never been to before. Or, it can come from learning about a plant or painting you've never noticed before. Or, it can come from attending a museum program or class where you learn about an aspect of history or art or gardening that is new to you.

Another way to create a sense of accomplishment is to set yourself a goal for your museum visit, and then try to meet it. Your goal might be to visit a gallery that you've never been to before. For example, if you tend to look at 19th century art, check out art and design from the mid-20th century. Or, if you tend to follow a certain path at the botanical garden, go out the door and walk in another direction. Or, if you tend to wander through a museum on your own, decide to take an audio tour. Changing things up gives a sense of accomplishment! Good for our mental wellness!

Words and art

Engaging different parts of our brain builds mental wellness. Much of our time visiting museums involves listening and looking. Add an element of prose or poetry or word association or label re-writing. Stick a notebook in your pocket or purse. Stop occasionally and jot down some words that connect you to the art in front of you. Or think of a rhyme that might describe the object. Or make a list of five words that describe the opposite of what you're looking at.

As a frequent critic of the labels that accompany artwork and objects (they're boring, they're too wordy, they don't answer the viewers biggest question), I'll suggest that you might have some fun with labels. Find a label that is long and wordy and re-write it in your notebook using 10 words or less! Or find a label that sounds like it's written for other curators; re-write it for the average person. Or, find a label where the most interesting information is that the end of the label; re-write it in a more compelling manner. If you're highly motivated, you might even pass on your label suggestions to the museum staff!


Often we visit museums passively, even when there are activities in front of us. Participate! Is there a button to push at the children's museum, push it! Is there a place to color in a mandala at an art museum, color it in! Are there levers to move to change the flow of water at the science museum, move them! Is there an opportunity to create an online poster, create it! You'll feel proud of yourself and you just might learn something new!

Sometimes positive mental wellness opportunities just occur in our lives without much effort. But, by consciously incorporating mental wellness activities into your cultural visits, you'll be building your resiliency, and maybe having some extra fun!

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