The benefits of creativity for our mental health
Today I was chewing down on my fifth chocolate covered pancake, celebrating the fabulous tradition that is Pancake Day. It got me thinking about my comforts and what I use to look after my mental health.
Coming out of the dark rainy months of January and February, I find myself turning to my guilty pleasures and comfort foods more so than the rest of the year. But one thing that I find myself drawn to the most (other than fat stacks of pancakes) is a crafty afternoon.
Photo by Ahmad Ossayli
Painting friends’ portraits, sculpting clay flower pots, sitting on the beach and writing poetry about the seagulls, these are all creative habits that I may not be very good at, but they themselves are very good for me.
This isn’t just one art lover rambling about how great their hobby is —personal struggles in mental health can be seen as inspiring artists throughout history. Take for example Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895), or even better check out the guardian article The Perspective Project¹ that showcases a variety of different ways people have expressed their mental health in art.
Artwork by Fay Troote | Poems by Post July 2021 Edition
What I’m talking about in this blog is not just how mental health can inspire art, but how being creative can actually have lasting positive effects on a person’s cognitive abilities. Making you feel better and getting your brain to work better as well! Don’t just take my word for it — turns out lots of people feel this way, and have done the necessary research to prove it, YES SCIENCE!
These past couple years have been pretty bizarre for all of us, and whist we were pulled apart, separated in bubbles, we were all united in our isolation. I’m not saying my weekly “pub quiz” over Zoom wasn’t a whole load of fun, however I still felt I had lost a large chunk of my social community.
During lockdown I ended up painting all of my rusty garden furniture in bright blues and purples, the local kids all painted little animals on rocks and hid them around the neighbourhood for others to find. Being creative during such a stressful and isolating time significantly helped my own, and my community’s mood.
Photo by Chris Montgomery
An investigative study in 2018 supports these feelings in which they used art to try and tackle loneliness in their Care Home residents². Not only did introducing creative projects lead to a lift in the residents mood, they also saw an increase in social interactions as well. YAY. The film I Remember Better When I Paint³ beautifully documents the reasoning for this, finding, as that title suggests, not only does art help you feel better, your brain works better too. Turns out painting helped stimulate memories in dementia patients, further helping them to reconnect with the world around them.
Who wouldn’t want to go talk to their buddies about that?
Where talking falls short
Like the great artists of the past hint at, art can express deeply personal and complex emotions, thoughts and feelings. Providing people with the tools to create art means also, as The Mental Health Foundation says, providing the tools to express emotional issues.
Creating art is naturally relaxing, giving you a chance to slow down to help you connect with your own life. With the year(s!) we’ve had, who wouldn’t want to relax a little bit? Creativity helps you to process feelings in a stress free environment, and provides an emotional release when perhaps you are unable to express yourself with words.
The British Association of Art Therapists really cements this idea. Not only are artistic habits being encouraged for personal use, it is a proven form of psychotherapy! If you think you could benefit from something like this, the BAAT have lots of resources on their website for finding qualified practitioners to help you out. Or perhaps today while you enjoy your pancakes, think about what creative form of expression you enjoy most, and host a crafternoon with those you love.
Now, I do want to make one thing clear — you don’t have to be good at art to be creative! All you have to do is be honest with yourself and explore whatever the heck you want. Studies have found that dopamine is often released in the body during creative activities⁴, a natural mood-boosting neurotransmitter that is incredibly helpful in battling a variety of mental disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Artwork by Jay Chronic | Poems by Post January 2022 Edition
Now you’ve just made your first clay pot, not only will you be full of happy brain chemicals, you’ve also gone and got yourself a great feeling of accomplishment! Being creative helps in building self confidence and helps you find some self-appreciation. So come on, go boost that self-esteem with a creative project of your choice!
¹ Anscombe, M. (2018) ‘The Perspective Project’, The Guardian, 1 March [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/gallery/2018/jan/17/eight-artworks-inspired-mental-health-problems-pictures
² Zaidel, D, W. Creativity, brain, and art: biological and neurological considerations, Human Neuroscience, 1 March [Online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4041074/
³ Heubner, B. Ellen, E. (2009) I Remember Better When I Paint, French Connection Films [Documentary].
⁴ Bungay, H. (2018). How prescription creativity can improve mental and physical health, Medical Xpress, 5 April [Online]. Available at: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-04-prescription-creativity-mental-ph…