Zentangle Meditation for PTSD

Zentangle Meditation for PTSD

For many people, especially those affected by PTSD or C-PTSD, traditional meditation can pose challenges due to the difficulty of quieting a busy mind or confronting intrusive thoughts. That’s where Zentangle meditation steps in as a perfect solution. Zentangle is a form of art meditation which is used to relax the mind by falling into a state of ‘flow’ by drawing  repetitive patterns, and having no end goal in mind while you draw.

While Zentangle is a modern practice that emerged in the early 2000s, its roots extend to ancient methods. It incorporates rituals intertwined with the formation of patterns, symbols, and designs, tapping into timeless artistic traditions

Zentangle is a combination of meditation and art and offers a creative and structured practice that becomes a tangible focus, allowing you to engage in a meditative process without the pressure of achieving a completely clear mind.

“I make zentangle birds, this one stands for 9 hours of not thinking bad thoughts” – Elena, PTSD UK Supporter

To keep things simple, the painting is done on 9x9cm tiles, minimising the intricacy of the drawing process. Using various patterns, such as strokes or waves, you get to see your progress very quickly.

With Zentangle, the combination of artistic expression and mindfulness creates a gentle and accessible entry point into meditation, providing a comforting way for those with PTSD or C-PTSD to explore their internal landscapes with a constructive and focused approach.

Created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, the repetitive, simple steps support relaxation, focus and inspiration and can also offer

  1. Stress Reduction: Zentangle meditation promotes relaxation by engaging in repetitive, mindful drawing patterns, reducing stress levels associated with PTSD.
  2. Flow State: The meditative nature of Zentangle helps individuals enter a flow state, where they become absorbed in the creative process, leading to a sense of timelessness and focus.
  3. Shift in Perspective: Zentangle intentionally facilitates a shift in focus and perspective, allowing individuals to temporarily redirect their thoughts away from distressing memories or triggers.
  4. Artistic Satisfaction: The creative expression involved in Zentangle provides a unique form of artistic satisfaction, fostering a sense of accomplishment and pride.
  5. Mindfulness Practices: Zentangle encourages mindfulness as practitioners concentrate on the present moment while drawing, promoting a break from intrusive thoughts related to PTSD.
  6. Problem-Solving in a Relaxed State: Engaging in Zentangle allows individuals to problem-solve without feeling overwhelmed by the issues they face, creating a mental space for clarity.
  7. Emotional Regulation: Zentangle provides a healthy outlet for processing emotions related to PTSD, allowing individuals to express and explore their feelings through the artistic process.
  8. Improved Sleep: Practicing Zentangle, especially in the evening, has been reported to contribute to better sleep quality by promoting relaxation and easing symptoms like teeth grinding associated with PTSD.
  9. Low-Pressure Meditation: Zentangle lacks a rigid structure or end goal, providing a low-pressure meditation option that allows individuals to focus on the process rather than achieving a specific outcome.

Similar to doodling, you don’t start off with an image in mind. Instead, you let the image flow from your pencil or pen with no preconceived notion of what you were going to draw in the first place. Each stroke is a deliberate expression, a mindful act that captures fragments of your thoughts, words, and experiences. Every line on the paper becomes a tangible record of the significant moments in your life. It’s not just about the visual outcome; it’s about forging a connection between your mind, your hand, and the paper. The intentional ban on erasers is symbolic—allowing your authentic self to be imprinted without deletion. This process cultivates new thoughts and perspectives, guiding you into a state of flow and present-moment focus. Embracing the unpredictability of the result, without the safety net of predetermined solutions, may initially feel liberating yet challenging. It challenges the ingrained desire for perfection and invites you to navigate the creative unknown.

So how does it work?

The Zentangle website states “draw each stroke consciously and deliberately. We are always making “strokes” (thoughts, words, deeds) in our life. By practicing the Zentangle Method’s suggestion to make each stroke deliberate, you understand how those apparently small and insignificant “strokes” of our moment to moment lives contribute to an overall life pattern. This is another reason that we say that life is an artform and everyone is an artist.’

Scientific research has also been done on the benefits of Zentangle meditation for mental health. In a preliminary 2021 study involving 40 healthcare workers, researchers observed positive effects, including stress relief, a reduction in workplace stress and frustration, enhanced self-efficacy, and increased commitment to work. This resulted in improvements in the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the participants. A 2022 study with 38 participants from the general public echoed these findings, indicating that Zentangle may contribute to improved affective well-being and, with sufficient practice, could potentially help with anxiety and enhance self-compassion. While more research is needed for a comprehensive understanding of Zentangle’s therapeutic effects on larger populations, these smaller studies suggest its potential benefits for anxiety, stress reduction, and overall well-being.

One frequent Zentangle advocate said ‘It has been wonderful, I’ve been doing at least one a day, I do it sometimes in the evening for hours and have had the best nights sleep that I’ve had in years, I grind my teeth and I’ve noticed when I start doing Zentangle I actual stop grinding and clenching. I feel like I’ve come out of a very long fog, or sleep. Interesting enough, I have high blood pressure, and anxiety, and last week at the dentist, at which I usually have at least one anxiety attack when I go, I did this in the waiting room and not only did I not have an anxiety attack, my blood pressure was a low 102’.

Officially, you use paper of a specific size, and approved drawing materials, but realistically, any pen and paper will work if you fancy seeing the results for yourself.

How to get started

Although the Zentangle method creators have an 8 step method (detailed below) you can adapt this to any size or initial shape you like. Once you’ve gathered your equipment: a piece of paper (for ease, the traditional size is 9cm by 9cm, but any size you like is fine) and a pen/pencil or fineliner you can begin – you can also purchase our Ink and Insight toolkit for what you’ll need:

  1. Gratitude and Appreciation: Prepare your mind to relax and appreciate the upcoming creative experience.
  2. Corner Dots: Establish four dots at the corners of a square piece of paper.
  3. Border: Connect the dots using a pencil, forming a square with either curvy or straight lines.
  4. String: Divide the square into sections by adding strings or lines to the paper.
  5. Tangle: Let your mind wander and draw different patterns in each section. Employ a predefined sequence of simple strokes to create a pattern, letting go of concerns about mistakes or the final image.
  6. Shade: Enhance the drawing by adding shading to various areas, providing dimension.
  7. Initial and Sign: Place your initials on the front and sign the back of your artwork.
  8. Appreciate: Hold up your completed picture and take a moment to appreciate what you’ve created.

Zentangles evolve through continuous repetition, and over time, you’ll notice the recurrence of familiar movements.

Remember, there is no right or wrong when creating a Zentangle – just go with the flow. While you tangle, the goal is to let your mind focus only on the process of creating the lines and patterns. By immersing yourself in the creation of tangles you can promote a state of full relaxation and meditation.

If you’d like to try Zentangle meditation with our Ink and Insight Project toolkit, you can purchase your pack here.


Coloured Pencils by Paul Tomlin

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