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!