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Painting Away the Stress

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2015 - Spring


Once a month between 30 and 40 Yale workers, ranging from postdocs at the School of Medicine to IT techs to administrative assistants, spend their lunch hour painting at an art studio on Chapel Street. The program, sponsored by Being Well at Yale, is designed to ease the stress of the workplace.

“We’re looking for a creative way to encourage employees to step away from the office for a little bit, recharge, and reset,” said Lisa Kimmel, manager of Being Well at Yale, of the popular program that started in December. “It’s a combination of tapping into your creative side, taking a short break from the office setting, connecting with colleagues, painting, and bringing a beautiful painting back to your office.”

The painters started filing into Art Plus Studio on Chapel Street at about noon on a recent Wednesday. They donned smocks, grabbed cups of water for dipping their paint brushes, and sat down at tables set with easels, each one holding an 8-by-10-inch canvas. On a whiteboard for all to see was a painting of an African savannah, complete with a red sunset, silhouetted acacia trees, and green grass. Everyone would copy the painting, and Rachel Rasfeld, an instructor at the studio, was there to guide the painters through the process. “It’s like art therapy. We do a painting together, but the point is to relax,” Rasfeld said.

She started by indicating where the horizon line should fall, then leading the painters through the colors of the sunset. After each set of instructions she turned on music to paint by—jazz standards, including classics by Frank Sinatra. Rasfeld, joined by fellow teacher Laina Pauker, wandered around the room offering advice and suggestions. By the hour’s end the painters had their versions of sunset on the African savannah ready to take home.

Reaction has been very positive, said Kimmel, citing comments from surveys of participants since the program began.

“I probably wouldn’t have done it on my own and now I found a new way to remove stress,” wrote one painter.

“Wonderful program—meeting and laughing with others,” wrote another.

“Lunch time painting break is awesome!! I can relax myself with friends, and try something different!!” wrote still another.