We enjoy art and creative activities for a number of reasons. Whether it is dancing, cooking, drawing, playing an instrument, we pursue these activities either as hobbies, professions or somewhere in between. Humans have an innate need for self-expression and exercising our creativity is a way to do just that. However, did you ever wonder if there was any specific health benefits of a creative practice?
Science does support the notion that creative activities is healthy and can benefit us in a number of ways. The article: What are the health benefits of being creative? in MedicalNewsToday.com, author Maria Cohaut identifies three major areas that creative activities helps us with – Mental Health, Improvement to Brain Functioning and Physical Benefits.
Mental Health – According to Cohaut, visual art such as drawing, painting or sculpture has been scientifically proven to help people with trauma. The author states that “in a comprehensive article on The Connection between Art, Healing, and Public Health, Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel say that "[a]rt helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a diagnosis of cancer." She also adds that Stuckey and Nobel note that "[A]rtistic self-expression might contribute to maintenance or reconstruction of a positive identity."
Writing such as morning pages or a regular journaling practice also has mental health benefits. There are a number of studies that exist that support the positive impact of expressive writing which requires participants to “narrate an event and explain how it affected” in assisting people in overcoming trauma and managing negative emotions. “In much the same way as visual expression, this type of writing allows people to take negative situations that cannot be changed and integrate them into their life's story, creating meaning for events that left indelible marks — such as a medical diagnosis, a loved one's death, or a violent experience, “ states Cohaut.
I can share an example from my own life in regards to the power of expressive writing…this summer an idea came to me to create a chapbook of poems and prose I had been writing since early last year in response to a situation with someone I still hold very dear. The situation ended up being devastating, leaving me with a lot of confused emotions and feelings. Unlike other conflicts or endings, this one was very unique due to the history of my relationship with this person. Instead of closure, I found myself the feeling the effects of this more and more intensely, partly due to the fact that the individual in question refused to communicate about seeking resolution.
I found myself writing more and more and feeling more in control of my emotions. I did not see this coming into a formal “project” like a chapbook, but I became more enamored with writing and using words to convey my confusion in a systematic way. I started sharing a little of the poetry in open mics which received good responses. I also started writing more often….recalling scenes, words, emotions, like from a movie or play that left a profound effect on me. After sharing my thoughts with a few trusted friends, I was encouraged to write the material as collection of poems. In this way, I could get what I felt out on paper, share it with the world and take control of the narrative for closure for myself, whether or not the individual in question ever sees or acknowledges it.
Brain Power: It appears that music training, acting and writing (once again!) can provide benefits in the area of brain power. Research has shown that in the area of writing, actually writing with a pen a paper versus typing can enhance learning and memorization. It actually can help us learn at a faster rate as well.
Cohaut shared that a review published in 2014 ”suggests that individuals with musical training — such as those who learned how to play an instrument — have improved connectivity between the two hemispheres of their brains.”
Did you know that play acting can actually help improve psychological well-being if pursued on a regular basis? Cohaut shared that a study from 2004 “found that older individuals who were encouraged to participate in theater performances had improved psychological well-being after 4 weeks. They also exhibited better cognitive functioning. In particular, the participants experienced better word and listening recall, as well as improved problem-solving abilities.”
Physical Benefits: According to the author, the researchers Stuckey and Nobel stated that, "studies have shown that [...] individuals who have written about their own traumatic experiences exhibit statistically significant improvements in various measures of physical health, reductions in visits to physicians, and better immune system functioning.” Once again writing is a very effective method of reducing physical illness as well as mental health and enhanced brain functioning.
If you are like me, listening to music can put the mind at ease. And there is scientific proof of that ability. Cohaut shared that “music affects our brains in complex ways, stimulating the limbic system and moderating our response to stressful stimuli.” In addition, listening to music "may help to restore effective functioning in the immune system partly via the actions of the amygdala and hypothalamus." These brain regions are implicated in mood regulation and hormonal processes, as well as in the body's inflammatory response” according to researchers Stuckey and Nobel.
As we know, creative expression can also be very physical, such as dancing which has demonstrated benefits that can last a life time. Cohaut shared that a study focusing on breast cancer survivors found that dancing “helped to improve shoulder function in participants, and that it had a positive impact on their body image.” The ever popular Zumba dance based exercise routines have been shown in recent studies to improve blood pressure and triglyceride levels, “while previous studies linked aerobic dance with better weight management.”
As you consider keeping up with pursuing your chosen creative practice, remember that it cannot only serve as self-care, but it has many health benefits as well, supported by science.
Have you experienced health benefits from pursuing the arts or creative activities? Share in the comments below!
I am excited to announce that I am now a "published" author! I had the honor to be among 40 creativity coaches from around the globe to contribute to a book focusing on the first-ever case study examination of the art and practice of creativity coaching.
Inside Creativity Coaching, published by Routlege Books this week, was curated by one of America's foremost creativity coaches, Eric Masiel which includes rich narratives that examine how creativity coaches work with writers, painters, musicians, craftspeople, and other creatives on issues such as motivation, procrastination, blockage, and performance and career anxiety. Packed with concrete tools and techniques, the book draws on inspirational success stories to help coaches better understand and serve their creative clients. It will be a valuable resource to creativity coaches, coaches interested in developing a specialty, and creatives and performing artists looking to overcome their challenges.
Covering a diverse range of disciplines, Inside Creativity Coaching is a must-have book for both aspiring and experienced creativity coaches, and anyone interested in helping creatives.
I am proud to be able to participate in this book project and provide a chapter based on my own experiences as a creativity coach.
Inside Creativity Coaching is available on Amazon.com, Vital Source, Book Depository, and other book sellers by request.
Image: ID 148017510 © Ivona17 | Dreamstime.com
Ah, the infamous "Naysayer".....! As you move through your creative journey, most often than not, you will meet up with him or her. These are not people who provide healthy criticism of your work to improve it. These are the people who are not fans of what you are doing altogether, no matter how good it is. They are somehow threatened by your interest to do something creative and will do everything in their power to discourage you from doing it.
Not long ago, I shared a creative dream with a rather recent acquaintance, expecting her to be as enthusiastic as my long-time friends and colleagues. We were talking on the phone catching up and when I announced the creative project there was dead silence for a minute or two. She finally said, "what made you want to do that?" It was an odd question...somewhat accusing like "why do you want to jump off a cliff?" I explained more about the project...expecting an "ah hah" or "okay, I see"...but that wasn't the case. Later she said that she didn't know why I wanted to do something I didn't have a level of understanding of it (in accordance to her). She then proceeded to compare how she perceived I handled a personal situation and use that as a barometer of how unqualified I was to pursue the creative project...two totally different things. Unfortunately, I did temporarily allow her words to concern me. Was I really unfit to do this? Is she right? But why was she the only person I shared this with being negative about it? What's really going on here?
After meditating, reflecting and talking to people who really knew me and were either objective or strong proponents of my creative life, I was reminded that her role was to really keep me on my toes, trust my intuition, and measure my commitment to the project. And that's what naysayers do....they remind you of your purpose in life as a creative and to move forward regardless of what "they' say or think. (Note: the only exception is if the person is providing sound advice about what you propose to do which might physically or mentally harm you or others or is against the law).
So how do you deal with a naysayer that throws water on your creative dreams or goals? Here's some thoughts to help:
1. Consider the source: How well does this person know you? What role do they play in your life and if any to your creative dreams? If they are a person that is a casual acquaintance versus your mother, spouse, etc. The role they play will have a lot to do with the weight that their words carry. Are they an expert in the field that you are pursuing? If so, is their opinion recognized professionally? Do they know your creative side or just another side of your life (i.e. in the office, on the tennis court, etc.)? Depending on the source, you will need to decide how active or involved they will be in your creative life and adjust accordingly. In my case, the person was not very familiar with the extent of my professional endeavors, only based on what I would share about in a passing conversation or via social media. She did not have a professional background or experience in my field or the area that she believed I was deficient in to make any assessment about my ability to do the creative project.
2. Ask yourself what they are not saying. Does the person feel threatened because your free time is no longer spent with them but in your creative endeavors? Or does the person secretly want to pursue a creative dream and is jealous of what you are doing? Is there a lot of changes going on in their lives (caretaking of a sick relative, taking over the raising of young children, separation or divorce, loss of job, a major move, health issues, children in trouble, etc.)? Life circumstances such as these can make some people stressed, anxious, regretful or even resentful of others and cause them to say critical things to others intentionally or unintentionally. Also, consider the personality of the person...if they have always exhibited some narcissistic traits, their response to you may be part of their regular behavior. My naysayer had recently made some major life changes that may have contributed some to her response to my announcement.
3. Decide how much the naysayer continue to be privy to your creative life. Depending on how you answered #1, decide what role they will continue to play in your creative life. You might want to let them know that what they said was hurtful and talk about your feelings, if it is safe to do so, and depending on how well it is received, make the choice that feels right for you. You may decide that you will no longer share anything about your creative life with the individual and stick to neutral activities or topics of discussion. You may learn that the person feel shut out of your creative life or miss the time you both spent together. If that is the case, consider how to make more time in your schedule to spend with them....or even how to get them involved with helping your creative practice (i.e. if you are writing book, think about using them as a beta reader or getting them involved with organizing your first book signing). If they are in a position to support you financially, you may want to consider your options by talking to someone you trust, whether it is a therapist or another professional, especially if it a part of ongoing or escalating mental or physical abuse. Or you may decide that you no longer want them in your life period. Again, depending on the situation, weigh your options carefully and make the choice that supports not only you but your creativity as well. After sharing my feelings with my naysayer, we decided that a continued friendship would not be beneficial and have since parted company. I haven't looked back but view it as wakeup call and an educational moment for me as I move forward with my creative endeavors.
4. Know who your fans and cheerleaders are. Those who truly know and support your dreams are the ones you need to have close. These people are not afraid to give you constructive criticism when you need it and are always visibly excited about what you are doing. They may or may not be "influential" but their energy and belief in you is what you need. If you don't have these people around, seek them out in creative groups or other organizations that bring together people with like minds. Believe me, your "people" are out there...you need to find and connect with them to move you forward.
5. Think about who can and cannot share your creative dreams with. In the age of social media where so much is being shared with everyone with a few clicks, it is easy to feel that sharing your creative dreams shouldn't be an issue. Unfortunately, it is in many cases....the "haters" and those who are naysayers thrive on your vulnerable moments just to kill or overly criticize what you are doing. Think about who needs to know about what you are pursuing. Ask yourself the questions in #1 especially how well they know your creative life and are they people who have consistently appreciated your creative gifts. You may also want to consider "rolling out" a major creative project slowly regarding who you share it with. Perhaps only a handful of people you trust can know it the beginning and when it's close to being unveiled, everyone else.
How do you deal with the naysayers in your life? What advice can you give to others who are dealing with this situation? Please share in the comments below.