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What is Zentangle?
Linda Farmer, Certified Zentangle Teacher


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STORIES: Overcoming panic attacks

In this occasional series on TanglePatterns, readers describe in their own words how Zentangle® has changed their lives. For more accounts in this series, click on the “STORIES” link in the alphabetical listing above.

* * *

STORIES: How Zentangle changes livesEarly this year I had a very negative dental experience, which resulted in my first panic attack.

For weeks afterwards, I had waves of anxiety that would strike at odd times and cause me to feel very uneasy.

In an attempt to help me with these bouts, my mother-in-law sent me Totally Tangled and a set of Micron pens, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I carry my pens and notepad with me everywhere I go, and whip them out whenever I need to wait somewhere, or if I start to feel anxious for any reason. When I start to work on a piece, I’m quickly moved into a meditative state which allows me to relax and focus on something very enjoyable.

I love how this community shares their ideas and work, and am very grateful to Maria and Rick and your TanglePatterns website for providing me with a tool I can use for relaxation and pleasure. My anxiety is now getting under control, but my notepad is still getting a good workout.

Thank you! ~ Christine S

Christine's Zentangle-Inspired Art

Zentangle-inspired art by Christine S., original 5″ x 7″, used with Christine’s permission.

* * *

If you would like to share your own experience for this series, please email me (linda [at] tanglepatterns [dot] com). You can make your story as long as or short as you like and if you wish your personal details to remain private, I will certainly honor that.

By publishing your “testimonials”, I’m hoping it will help spread the word about Zentangle to many others who can REALLY benefit from it. As the Zentangle founders say, “Anything is possible, one stroke at a time.”™


34 comments to STORIES: Overcoming panic attacks

  • Beautiful piece of art, Christine. A tribute to what the relaxed mind can create. Thank you for sharing.

  • J.R.

    You have a strong beautiful talent with Zentangle. Keep up the good work. I can also understand about the panic attacks. I was diagnosed with severe PTSD due to the Iraq War/conflict. I was intoduced to it over a year ago. It greatly helps.

  • Phyllis Knoll

    Hi Christine: Thank you for sharing your art and story. Your piece is impressive; I wouldn’t know where to begin in creating something like this. I’ve suffered from panic/anxiety attacks for many years. Even though my tangles aren’t anything to write home about, they help to occupy my frantic brain.
    Thanks again,

  • Jill

    Hi! I am fairly new to Zentangles,too…and am drawn to them for the very same reason. I love the art featured above. It reminds me of a seashell. Thanks for,posting your story.

  • Kim

    Your tangle is fabulous and thank you for sharing. I also suffer from anxiety attacks.

  • Susannah Ayres-Thomas

    Hi, Christine. I can empathize with you–I’ve had panic attacks in the past, so I know what you mean. And you’re so very right about the meditative, calming effect of Zentangle–and your work (evidenced by the example above) is simply gorgeous! I’m sure, even when you overcome your problem, you’ll continue to tangle, and it would be a huge loss if you didn’t, so keep it up! Thanks for your beautiful Zentangle.

  • Christine,
    It takes courage to talk about what you’ve been through and I share similar things going on in my life. Tangles have helped me as well in so many ways. Thank you for sharing and your work is really lovely keep Tangling you will get through this.
    Happy Tangeling,

  • KimMJ

    Christine thanx for sharing your story as well as your beautiful design. I feel for you as I tend to get very nervous at the dentist’s office also. What a great way to relax. Thanx for the inspiration. I think it is time to attempt a tangle 🙂

  • carol hodges

    I have benn tangleing for about four months now. I have had a medical problem for over a year and they can not find out or the dr does not want to say what he did. I also find that it has heloed me. I take my pen and paper to all my drs appts. which helps with that time too. Thanks for sharing.

  • ik vind het erg mooi dank je. ik ben blij voor je dat het goed gaat ga lekker door met tangle ik heb ook mijn creativiteid weer terug door te tangle .thanks

  • I can totally see how zentangle can be calming. My 89 year old mom has been “doodling” as she calls it since she is a little girl and when she is stressed that is what she does. Can it be her secret to her longevity?


  • Peggie Schurch

    Hi Christine, Your beautiful tangle told your story so well, I could see the panic feeling in the top corner gradually easing and then becoming free. How brilliant! This is the first time I could “read between the lines” and would love to see more of your tangles. Best wishes, Peggie Australia

  • Ann

    I too began having panic attacks early this year. Mine were due to a 10 ft fall from the attic in my garage through the garage ceiling and onto a concrete floor that caused a bad sprain and put me in the emergency room.

    Over the next few weeks my panic attacks began in earnest, and I returned to the emergency room on two different occasions when I could not get them under control. They always came at night when I was alone, and I was terrified at the lack of control I had over them, and how terrified they made me feel.

    I began counseling, and one thing that helped me was to tangle a border in my journal and then finish by writing my feelings within my tangled border. Each night I bordered my page using a different combination of tangle patterns. As the weeks and months went by, I realized that by the time I was finished tangling the border, I usually had no further need to vent into the journal. It truly helped me heal, and now when I feel an attack coming on, I get out my journal and start tangling.

    I’m glad you are better!

  • Wow! Amazing how many of us, myself included, suffer from those nasty panic attacks. They are certainly NOT a good feeling.

    I am trying to lose some weight, too and tangling helps with that! When I just want something to eat, not hungry but just can’t get the idea of food out of my head, tangling distracts me. Hours will easily go by with no thought of food. Tangling is WONDERFUL!

  • True. Getting out of your head as much as possible is the only way to heal panic attacks. I tune in to Pandora Zeina Radio, get in to the groove, tangling away the day. No hunger, no lack, no mosquitos, just peace.

  • robin

    Wonderful stories and I am about to take on a life changing move from Al to Florida. I have also been on a weight loss plateau for about 6 months. I plan to learn more tangles and use my “art” as a distraction from food and from the overwhelming feelings of being so far from “home”.

    thanks for sharing everyone!

  • Sandra koterba

    So great to see this art form helping you with your anxiety. Your art is great , keep it up.

  • deborah

    I too, can see a sea shell in your Tangle! My first thought when I saw it. 🙂 I can’t Tangle because of RA, but I so enjoy reading about and gazing at others Tangles. It relaxes me so much. When I can’t get control of the pain and I start going into a panic attack I gaze at others Tangles and soon am calm. Thanks for a beautiful piece of work and for sharing your own story. 😉

  • Absolutely beautiful! I love your tangle and your story. I think we should have zentangle kits in every waiting room (hospitals, doctors, dentists). It is such a good way to zone out and relax.

    I think I have “white coat syndrome” where your blood pressure goes up when you see the doctor (seriously, a lot of people have this). So, I find that if I do a tangle pattern in my mind, when my blood pressure is taken, it helps me relax.

    Thanks for your story 😀

  • Beautiful work, Christine S. I Love it. 5×7 looks like a nice size, too. Your story is touching and I’m glad drawing tangles helped calm your nerves.

  • Julie

    Christine, this is a beautiful tangle. Thanks for sharing it and your experiences.

    I haven’t had a panic attack in years, but I work in an extremely stressful job. I notice that my tangles right after work tend to be compact with tiny repetitions – very evident of a hand and mind at stress. It really isn’t until I draw for a while that I am able to loosen up at all and then it becomes very evident as the tangle expands.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that it is helpful for me to start when I am stressed with a larger-pointed pen and a larger sheet of paper. When I use the “005” it only exacerbates the problem of tiny tangles. A larger pen forces me to expand the tangles outward and make the repetitions larger and more freeing right off the bat.

    I’ve also found that having a tangle-type coloring book is a great option when I am just too stressed to even make the decision about what tangle to do (an especially good one is a Mandala coloring book). I just grab the color pens and start mindless coloring. I often find that after a bit of that I’m ready to move to a new tangle of my own on blank paper.

    I’m enjoying reading how others are dealing with stress with their tangles. There are a lot of good ideas coming out.

    • Susannah Ayres-Thomas

      Julie, that’s a brilliant strategy. Now that I have granddaughters, we often color together. But I got kind of turned off to the princess-y and cars coloring books they favored (one’s a complete girly-girl, the other a complete tomboy). So I went and found myself some grown-up ones: the stained-glass ones are particularly nice (Thank you, Dover Books!), and I find as you did, that coloring is particularly soothing when I’m “wound up”. I hadn’t noticed what you did about tighter lines when you’re tense, but as I look back, I think it’s true for me, too. Thank you for that insight, and for your idea of using the larger pens when that happens. And, have you tried the lovely brush-tip pens Sakura makes in the Pigma line? They give you a fluidity the pens just can’t match. Beautiful! I think I’ll break them out next time I tighten up. Tangle on! (Maybe that should be our motto.)

      • Julie

        Christine, I haven’t tried the brush pens, but I’ll check them out. Right now I’m using some Stabilo 88 marker pens and I also have some Prismacolor pencils. I much prefer the pens-seems like the pencils take more concentration. And the whole point is to relax; I don’t want to have to try too hard to fill those small spaces 😉

        • Julie

          I’m sorry Susannah. I was thinking about Christine’s tangle and mistakenly typed her name instead of yours.

          It was a stressful day, lol!

  • deborah

    Yes, I was really surprised when I put, “adult coloring books” into my search engine and came up with all these lovely coloring books or pages to print and color. How wonderful that someone actually considered we adults in this fun pastime! 🙂 Tangle on! 🙂

  • BrendaLea

    Beautiful piece of art Christine, so glad that Tangling is helping you. I find it helps me too.

  • sue olsen

    Christine, thank you for sharing your story and your art.
    It’s a beautiful ZIA. (Zentangle Inspired Art)
    Sue O.

  • Christine

    Thank you all for your comments and feedback on my tangle. My daughter thinks it looks like a parrot, and since she said that I can’t see anything else. Funny how that happens.


  • yeh. I kinda see it. Sort of an Elephant-Man parrot. If you squint and hold your head just so. 🙂

  • deborah

    The “power of suggestion”. 😉

  • Kathy

    OMG ! It is 1:21 am in Prescott, AZ. I just woke up with a “paralyzing-type” panic attack. (I just returned home from Norway via an agonizing 24+ hour flight from London yesterday . . . Gentleman had heart attack between Chicago and Phoenix. . . Found out 5 staffers at work have lost their jobs, etc..) So, after waking my husband (a sometimes Zentangler also), I decided to go through 1,271 emails (of course deleting all the junk, but ALWAYS READING AND LOOKING AT THE ZT PATTERNS), and I happened on this post . . . Coincidence or higher power guidance? So, off I go to relax with pen and ink rather than think about the panic attack. . . . Thank you for the post. . . It came in handy just when I needed it. All the other replies. . . Listen to Zeina on Pandora, using a larger size pen, etc.) will be attempted as soon as I hit the send . . . Thanks everyone!

  • Private

    In order to relieve panic attacks zentangling:
    1. Start before the panic is severe. Don’t wait! Learn early symptoms like tightened diaphragm, restricted breathing, etc.
    2. Keep a pattern started so there is something quick to get into that you want to finish.
    3. The pen has to actually be on the paper and moving. Hunting for a pattern can add more stress.
    4. Keep the pattern simple until your physical symptoms abate. Don’t stress yourself further with something complicated.
    5. Don’t expect a masterpiece. Be happy with whatever is produced.
    6. Have supplies in several places: purse, car, work, bedroom.
    7. If pen stresses you because of mistakes, use pencil.

    • deborah

      Those are great tips!

    • Peggy

      I haven’t had panic attacks, but I have used Zentangle when I’m feeling anxious or nervous about something and I can’t get myself to put it out of my mind. Your #3 fits me! I pull out a tile and a pen and do one of my favorite “go to” tangles like ‘Nzeppel or Hollibaugh or Paradox. No thinking required because I know them by heart! All of your suggestions are great for panic attacks and that little case of nerves too! Thanks for reminding us!

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