2 tips for easing anxiety from the "Lisa Frank" of mental health art

Kate Allan combines whimsy with keeping it real.

Illustration of a white kitty sitting on a blue moon
Kate Allan

In the world of Kate Allan sparkle neon owls wisely inform you that “anxiety lies” and rainbow-spotted dinosaurs remind you to treat yourself with kindness.

Allan is a mental health author and illustrator from Washington State, and the artist behind the popular Instagram account thelatestkate. She’s also the writer of You Can Do All Things: Drawings, Affirmations and Mindfulness to Help With Anxiety and Depression and later this month, she’s releasing a (very cute) prompt journal.

While she’s always loved cute, colorful imagery — think Lisa Frank and Sailor Moon — her approach to art comes from an understanding that it’s sometimes easier to process real advice from a gentle, and maybe cotton-candy colored, messenger. The advice itself comes from a place of understanding: Allan has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and the statements she weaves into her pieces come from an effort to fight negative self-talk.

The following is an interview with Allan about mental arguments, the creative process, and how to not let anxiety take hold.

A version of this article first appeared as the Sunday Scaries newsletter. Sign up for free to receive it on Sundays.

What motivated you to create the “thelatestkate” account?

Honestly, it started when I went through a breakdown. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and there was a point in my early twenties when I really wasn’t functioning.

I had the privilege of seeing a therapist, and she let me know that I really had to crack down on my negative thoughts and argue against them as often as possible. And when that became my “job,” I thought, why not pair this with my hobby of drawing? Why not showcase this work that I’m doing for others who are also struggling?

What are you up to you when you’re not creating art?

I like video games and hiking. I also started karate recently, which is really challenging. For every kata, each arm and leg all do a different thing, and it’s so difficult for my mind! But like, a good difficult.

What is your process like — do these messages come to you and then you pair them with an image?

It starts out with my brain piling the abuse on me when I wake up. I spend quite a bit of time every day mentally arguing against “negative chatter.” It goes something like this:

Brain: “You’re incapable of handling today.”

Counter: “I am capable of handling everything life throws at me today.”

Brain: “You’re going to mess something up.”

Counter: “It’s okay to make mistakes, I can recover from anything.”

Brain: “You’re a burden on your loved ones.”

Counter: “I am loved, appreciated, and wanted.”

I then write down all of these counter arguments into a doc on my computer, and as I draw, I pair animals or objects with the counter argument that fits.

To that end, why share these messages alongside images of animals?

To be honest, I just like them. I’ve always loved Lisa Frank and Sailor Moon — cute, colorful imagery feels like home. I’ve also gotten feedback from others that when they struggle to hear counter-arguments from friends or family, seeing it from a little starry cat makes it feel more friendly, or perhaps less like a lie.

Do you have a piece that you’ve created that resonates with you most?

Oh man, I have so many! Sometimes the arguments resonate with me more when I’m going through a specific challenge. Lately, this one has been getting me through:

Has this project affected your own relationship with anxiety? Does the act of creating art benefit your mental health?

Oh, definitely. Drawing and coloring help get me into a calmer state, and then pairing those drawings with captions helps me to be more mindful overall.

Do you have any advice for people who might be struggling with anxiety? Any practices you employ when you’re feeling anxious?

A couple things that work well for me over the years are:

  1. When I feel panicky, I pant my breath a few times, then fully exhale, and hold that for a few seconds. After that, I can take a big breath in. It’s difficult to control your breathing when you’re anxious, but this technique has helped me the most. If I try to immediately take in a deep breath, it just makes the panic symptoms worse!
  2. Task lists. This is tricky because you have to know yourself really well, but assigning myself to a bunch of tasks throughout the day is a good way to circumvent my anxiety. In tandem with this, if my anxiety is really out of control and hijacking my mind, I’ve found assigning a “worry time” in my day helps. I take about 10 minutes to write out all my worries — like really get it all out without judgment — and then I mentally force myself to not engage with the thoughts again until the next day’s “worry time.”
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