How Creativity Positively Impacts Your Health
Creativity Improves Mental Health
Expressing yourself through artistic and creative activities is like a prescription for your mental health. Turning to creativity has been proven in extensive research to relieve both stress and anxiety. Creativity also helps lessen the shame, anger, and depression felt by those who have experienced trauma.
The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has an art therapy program for soldiers with PTSD. Veterans often find it difficult to express their trauma verbally. Art therapy manager Tammy Shella, PhD, ATR-BC, says, “Through art therapy, patients can convey how they really feel on the inside and reveal things that they weren’t comfortable sharing with the world.”
Creativity Puts You in a Flow State
Have you ever been so immersed in writing in your journal, creating postcards out of your recent photographs, or dancing to your favorite band that you lost all sense of time?
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the cofounders of positive psychology, calls this “flow state.” During this time, you’re focused with optimal attention on a task or activity. It’s sometimes called being in the zone. This is an excellent and often euphoric state to be in. In this state, we are more mindful and relaxed. This allows us to feel more positive and brings a sense of accomplishment. People who experience flow report higher levels of creativity, productivity, and happiness.
How to Enhance Your Creativity
Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as artists or as innovators trained in coming up with bold, new ideas. However, the key traits of innovators include energy, intelligence and discipline, which we all have in varying amounts. Although we might not be artists or innovators by profession, that doesn’t mean we can’t tap into ways to expand our creativity. We all have the ability to express ourselves and come up with alternate ways of looking at things.
The good news for those of us who didn’t excel at art during our childhood is that the beneficial effects happen during the art process. They are not based on the end product.
Laurel Healy, LCSW, says, “Engaging in a creative process, like singing, dancing, painting or drawing, has full body benefits. When we focus on something that is challenging and/or fun, we make new neuropathways, increasing connectivity in the brain.
"Increased connectivity, especially in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, makes us more emotionally resilient in a way that is similar to what occurs when we meditate. The release of dopamine brings an enhanced sense of well-being as well as improved motivation,” Healy says.
Draw or Paint
A growing body of research demonstrates that activities like drawing and painting can relieve stress and depression. Artistic activities have been linked to improving memory and resilience in older adults, even helping seniors with dementia reconnect with the world. Actively making art rather than simply appreciating art has also been shown to stave off cognitive decline.
Sing or Play Music
Music bonds us. According to researchers, when we harmonize or synchronize with others, we have more positive feelings towards them. This occurs even if they aren’t in the same room. Singing raises oxytocin levels in both amateur and professional singers. If you’re not enamored with singing, do you like to just listen to music? Simply listening to music releases oxytocin. Music directly impacts oxytocin levels and oxytocin affects our ability to trust and socially connect to others.
Dancing is not only fun, it’s actually really good for you to move with music. Studies have shown that dancing relieves anxiety, improves quality of life for breast cancer patients, and lowers the risk of dementia for older people. What is surprising in the research is that the benefit wasn’t due to physical exercise alone. Compared to other forms of exercise, dancing was the only exercise that made a difference.
While playing or storytelling might seem in the moment, there are psychological and developmental benefits that accrue and are long-lasting.
Jennifer A. Perry, former VP of worldwide publishing at Sesame Workshop and executive director of Perry Educational Projects Consulting, points to the long-term benefits of play and creative pursuits. She says, "By exploring imagination and creativity through art, storytelling, interactive games, music, and all kinds of play, children learn lifelong skills... how to express themselves, communicate with others, problem solve, develop self-confidence, appreciate diverse ideas and cultures, and find things that make them feel fulfilled and happy."
Play isn’t just kid stuff. It’s also beneficial for adults. The National Institute for Play underscores the research that already exists on play: “A huge amount of existing scientific research—from neurophysiology, developmental and cognitive psychology, to animal play behaviour, and evolutionary and molecular biology—contains rich data on play. The existing research describes patterns and states of play and explains how play shapes our brains, creates our competencies, and ballasts our emotions.”
Spend Time in Nature
A study titled “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning Through Immersion in Natural Settings" showed how nature affects creativity. A group of hikers who spent four days immersed in nature and disconnected from technological devices increased performance on a creativity/problem solving task by 50%.
Nature in this study provided emotionally positive stimuli. By reducing the usage of phones and computers, those in the study weren’t switching tasks or multi-tasking, attending to sudden events, maintaining task goals or inhibiting irrelevant actions. Therefore, spending quality time in nature improved their creativity test scores.
So, when you are stumped by problems, move away from the computer. It helps to think creatively about solutions and alternative options while walking in the garden or hiking in the park.