Art as a stress release November 20, 2018
“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
— Pablo Picasso
We are all born with an innate desire to express ourselves, and art encompasses a broader range of activities than you might imagine.
HOW CREATING ART RELIEVES STRESS
Activities like painting, sculpting, drawing, and photography are relaxing and rewarding hobbies that can lower your stress level and leave you feeling mentally clear and calm.
Creating art provides a distraction, giving your brain a break from your usual thoughts.
When you get immersed in a creative endeavour, you may find yourself in what’s known as “the zone” or a state of “flow.”
This meditative-like state focuses your mind and temporarily pushes aside all your worries.
Leonardo da Vinci proclaimed that “Painting embraces all the ten functions of the eye; that is to say, darkness, light, body and colour, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest.”
Creating art trains you to concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment.
A popular art trend for stress relief is adult colouring books.
This idea was first popularized in France, a country that’s number one in per capita consumption of antidepressants, tranquillizers, and sleeping pills.
Many art therapists are supportive of the movement and would like to see colouring become a gateway to reach those who could benefit from art therapy.
So far, this has worked to gently transition veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) into art therapy.
ART ENCOURAGES CREATIVE THINKING
Dr. Lawrence Katz is an internationally recognized pioneer in neuron regeneration research.
He found that mental decline was due mainly to the loss of communication between brain cells, not from the death of brain cells themselves.
Dr. Katz coined the phrase “neurobics” to describe brain exercises that use your senses in new and novel ways and creating art certainly fits this definition.
Art enhances problem-solving skills.
Unlike math, there is no one correct answer in art.
Art encourages creative thinking and lets you come up with your unique solutions.
Contrary to popular belief, creative thinking does not mean using the right side of your brain.
Creativity involves getting both hemispheres of your brain to communicate with each other.
It also promotes the stereotype that you can’t be both analytical and creative, which is not true.
Some of the greatest minds of all time, including Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein, were simultaneously analytical and creative.
The most complicated functions that humans perform, such as thinking creatively, learning a language, or playing or listening to music, all require whole-brain thinking.
ART BOOSTS SELF-ESTEEM, PROVIDES A SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT
You may stick your kids’ artwork on the refrigerator door to boost their self-esteem.
Hanging your latest work of art on the wall can instill the same feeling in you.
Creating art increases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dopamine has been called the “motivation molecule.”
It boosts drive, focus, and concentration.
It enables you to plan and resist impulses so that you can achieve your goals.
Dopamine stimulates the creation of new neurons and prepares your brain for learning.
HOW ART AFFECTS THE BRAIN: INCREASED CONNECTIVITY AND PLASTICITY
Every time you engage in a new or complex activity, your brain creates new connections between brain cells.
Your brain’s ability to grow connections and change throughout your lifetime is called brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity.
Creating art stimulates communication between various parts of the brain.
In this way, creating art has been proven to increase psychological and emotional resilience and resistance to stress.
HOW ART MAKES CHILDREN BETTER STUDENTS FOR LIFE
Educators and parents alike have suspected that music and arts programs make better students.
Children with musical training perform better in math, language, and reading.
There’s evidence that the brain-enhancing benefits of music lessons received during childhood can follow through adulthood and last a lifetime.
Art lessons increase brain plasticity, fluid intelligence, IQ, and attention.
They improve overall behavior and reduce impulsiveness.
Unfortunately, educational budget cuts have slashed music and arts programs across the US in recent years.
VIEWING ART INCREASES EMPATHY, TOLERANCE, AND FEELINGS OF LOVE
A study of over 10,000 students found that a one-hour trip to an art museum changed the way they thought and felt.
Students who visited a museum not only showed increased critical thinking skills, they also exhibited greater empathy regarding how people lived in the past and expressed greater tolerance towards people different than themselves.
Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, discovered that the act of viewing art gives pleasure. Much like falling in love.
Brain scans revealed that looking at works of art triggers a surge of dopamine in the same area of the brain that registers romantic love.
CREATING ART IMPROVES QUALITY OF LIFE FOR DEMENTIA PATIENTS
Art enhances cognitive abilities and memory, even for people with severe brain disorders.
Dementia is thought of as a memory loss problem, but patients also experience other symptoms such as agitation, aggression, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
When dementia patients are encouraged to create visual art, they derive pleasure from it. It improves their social behaviour and self-esteem and reduces psychiatric symptoms.
Dr. Arnold Bresky is a physician who has created a program called the “Brain Tune Up” that utilizes art therapy for Alzheimer’s patients.
He reports that 70% of his patients experience improvements in memory when they draw or paint.
ART EASES THE BURDEN OF CHRONIC HEALTH CONDITIONS
Millions of people deal with chronic health conditions and the stress, anxiety, and depression that accompany them.
Art let patients forget about their illness for a while, allowing them to focus on positive life experiences.
Creating art enabled them to maintain the identity of who they were before they got sick.
Creative pursuits gave them a sense of achievement.
The creation process helped patients express their feelings.
Art reduced stress by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Dr. John Graham-Pole is a retired pediatric oncologist who wrote poetry to process some of the grim realities he faced working at a hospital.
He developed informal art workshops to help both patients and staff cope better with whatever was happening to them through writing and painting.
ART EXERCISES TO DO AT HOME
Albert Einstein said that “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
Don’t want to share what you are doing with others? Use sand, chalk, or water to create temporary art.
Buddhists create intricate sand mandalas, circular designs with concentric shapes, that are washed away upon completion.
These creations are a meditation on life’s impermanence.
Keep in mind as you create that using art therapeutically is about the journey — not about the end product.
CREATING ART VS ART THERAPY
Anyone can benefit from creating art, but sometimes it’s best to seek professional help.
Art therapists are health care professionals with backgrounds in both art and psychology or counselling.
Art therapy can be used to improve physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
The Benefits of Art Therapy for Mental Health
Art therapy is recommended for children or teens who are having personal problems or trouble in school.
Its helped people with anxiety, depression, addictions, PTSD, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and Alzheimer’s, and other severe physical and mental health conditions.
MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF ART: THE BOTTOM LINE
Creating art can be beneficial throughout all stages of life.
It can help children be better students and improve quality of life for seniors.
Relieving stress encourages creative thinking, boosts self-esteem, and provides a sense of accomplishment.
It can make you an all-around better, happier person.
There is no need to feel intimidated about doing art since it’s the process of creating art that provides the benefits, not the quality of the results.