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!
One of the most discouraging issues any creative has to face is the creative block. One of the definitions I identify with regarding a creative block is what an article in GoodTherapy describes as “the inability to access one’s internal creativity. People who are in engaged in creative activities or professions such as authors, actors, artists, dancers, etc. are often adversely affected by creative blocks….long stretches of uncreatively which can last for up to years..
There are many things, which I have covered in previous blog posts that can lead to a creative block. Some of these include
How does one deal or overcome the creative block when it rears its ugly head in our creative life? Here are some ideas and methods that I used to help me move past it in the past:
Think of who you know you want to cultivate within you as a creative. Practice writing statements (in the affirmative) that describes who you are or becoming.
EXAMPLE: I don’t know if I am truly the creative person want to be.
Affirmation: I love and trust my creative gifts.
EXAMPLE: I think I am a songwriter, but not sure if it is just in my head or if I’m that good.
Affirmation: I am a talented and very gifted songwriter that is celebrated for my work.
If you facing depression or some kind of mental or physical illness, these tips may not work well for you and professional intervention via a therapist or physician may be the first step in dealing with the creative block you are facing. Take time to make a proper assessment of what is going on and what might be the source of your blockage before trying these or other tips to address it.
Have you tried other ways to unblock your creativity? Share below!
One of the most popular creative blockbusters that you may hear about is a tool, made popular by Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way is the morning pages. As Julia defines it, the morning pages are “three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. “ The writing that is done here is not “high art” or publishable by any means…it is whatever comes to your head that you need or want to get out on paper, pen in hand. That’s right, it is not a typing or texting exercise…it is old school writing.
There are many people who use this as tool to unblock their creativity. For me it has been a tool that I have been using for a few years and it helps me to do a “mind dump” on everything that is going on in my daily world. Write everything from gratitude lists, poetry, funny things that happened during the day to venting out frustrations. Once I do this daily version of journaling, I begin the day a bit lighter and focused, especially as part of my morning ritual.
If you have been thinking of starting this practice, here is a few benefits that may encourage you to start earlier than later:
• There is No Wrong Way to Do the Morning Pages: Julia said so herself! It’s all about what comes out of your mind and on to the page. There is no writing structure or topic to follow. It is whatever is on your brain at the moment.
• The Morning Pages Clears the Fog of the Mind: For me, it is a wonderful brain dump….and at times I am surprised as to what appears on the page. There may be issues or thoughts latent in the brain that you don’t realize is in your subconscious. The morning pages allows you to get it out.
• The Morning Pages Helps You Discover Patterns of Thoughts or Concerns: You may be surprised that you are venting about similar issues or that a problem you thought you had now includes a solution in your writing. That is the magic of the process…when you identify patterns or find solutions, it helps clear the way for creativity.
• The Morning Pages Can Help You Think Through Creative Projects: New ideas often come as I write for artistic projects or for resources for my creativity coaching practice. I may write down an idea for workshop, or an art series and then expand on it. I may recall a detail from an Artist’s Date or an event I attended that I will write about which launches other ideas.
• The Morning Pages is a Healthy Way to Release Stress: If you have a habit of venting or complaining to your friends or family, a journaling practice of any kind is a healthy way to get it all out without losing friends and loved ones in the process. You can identify triggers, or crazymakers that may be getting in the way of your creativity.
Any journaling practice can have benefits to help you clear the mind and focus on your creative practice. Do you do the morning pages? What has been the benefits of this daily ritual for your creativity?