Anxiety has both cognitive and somatic dimensions as is ubiquitous at a population level. We report on an arts-based research workshop gathering data on embodied experiences of anxiety and non-anxiety. We developed an innovative short body mapping workshop to collect data and undertook thematic analysis to analyse textual and visual data. 35 body maps were produced. “Tightness,” “pain,” and “heaviness” were the most frequently expressed embodied sensations of anxiety. By contrast, when not feeling anxious, participants’ bodies primarily felt “energetic,” “ordered,” and “open.” Anxiety was most frequently felt in the stomach, head and heart. 35 Participants mostly used an abstracted, rather than figurative, visual language to depict anxiety. Conclusions: Participants reported diverse bodily experiences of anxiety, some of which correlate with commonly identified somatic symptoms of anxiety. Other symptoms were unique to participants. The richness and diversity of anxiety experiences elicited during workshops indicates that the brief body mapping approach has potential application in future research, and in other settings.


anxiety, body mapping, arts-based research, embodiment

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Priya Vaughan is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute. With a research background in social anthropology and art history, she takes an interdisciplinary approach to health research, utilising arts-based, collaborative and socially informed methodologies. Priya is currently working on an ARC funded project which uses body mapping to learn from women with disability, experience of mental distress, or refugee background about their experiences of, and ways of coping with, stigma and discrimination. Please direct correspondence to p.vaughan@blackdog.org.au.

Anna Tewson is a social worker who works with children and their families in Canberra, Australia. Before becoming a social worker, Anna worked as a researcher across a few areas including child protection, mental health and arts-based research.

Dr. Patricia Morgan is the Research Manager for the Positively Women research project, the Kirby Institute, UNSW, Sydney, https://positivelywomenproject.com.au/. She is an interdisciplinary scholar and integrates 40 years of experience in the fine arts, community development, and contemplative education and inquiry in her applied philosophical and arts-based research. Combining these experiences, she also designs and facilitates a range of contemplative initiatives in and outside of the academe. Patricia publishes in the areas of contemplative law, history, education, mathematics and arts-based research, and is an invited presenter in Australia New Zealand and the US. Please see her website for more information: http://www.thecontemplativeacademy.com

Professor Katherine Boydell is Head of the AKT (arts-based knowledge translation) Lab and Lead of the Knowledge Translation, Evaluation and Qualitative Inquiry Stream at the Black Dog Institute. She also holds the position of Director of Knowledge Translation, Sydney Partnership for Health Education Research and Enterprise. Her participatory, collaborative program of research uses the arts, broadly defined, in the research creation and dissemination process. She uses installation art as a knowledge translation strategy to share empirical research findings to a wide range of audiences. Using these strategies has resulted in increased mental health literacy, decreased stigma, and enhanced help seeking. She has published approximately 300 peer reviewed articles, book chapters and books and gives invited scientific and community talks regularly.


We thank participants for sharing their knowledge, experience and artworks with us. We acknowledge Jill Bennett and George Khut for their attendance of the workshop. We thank the Sydney Science Festival for their support of this project. We acknowledge that this research took place on unceded Aboriginal land and pay our respect to the custodians of the Countries on which we learn and work.

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.




https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1016-619X, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6905-538X, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0949-1622, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1464-8532



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