Art with creativity is your secret advantage for mental health
By Julian Lewis • January 2, 2023
It's no secret that creativity is essential for a healthy mind and body. After all, how can you be expected to come up with new ideas or solutions if you're not feeling your best? But what many people don't realize is that even a little bit of creativity can go a long way. In fact, research has shown that creative expression can have some amazing benefits for both your mental and physical health and your overall quality of life.
Creativity is a powerful tool for maintaining mental health and well-being. Not only does engaging in creatively stimulating activities help to reduce stress and anxiety, but it can also boost your mood, improve cognitive function, and even promote physical health by strengthening your immune system and reducing the risk of certain diseases.
To get started with incorporating more creativity into your life, read on to learn more about the mental health benefits associated with making art, different methods of creative expression and art therapy, and a variety of fun activities that can improve your psychological well-being through creative engagement.
Creativity puts you in a flow state
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the flow state "an optimal state of arousal" that is characterized by being completely absorbed and focused on the activity at hand. It's the opposite of being in conflict or feeling stuck, and it's incredibly pleasurable. A lot of scientists don't even study flow because they can't find a way to quantify it, but there are ways you can experience more flow for yourself.
Many artists and celebrities have raved about the power of flow in their lives. They've described the experience as feeling totally alive and engaged in their work, with a sense of focus and satisfaction that they can't find anywhere else. And these benefits aren't just reserved for the creative goals of professionals - anyone can experience flow by tapping into emotionally positive stimuli.
One of the best ways to experience more flow is to practice creativity in your everyday life. Whether it's drawing, writing, or trying a new recipe in the kitchen, being willing to explore and experiment with new ideas can put you into a state of flow more often. This is because flow happens when we are completely engaged in an activity without any distractions – in other words, when we are fully immersed in what we're doing.
This is precisely how art can help with mental health - when we engage in creative activities and enter into a state of flow, where we are able to decrease anxiety and better cope with stress. Not only does this reduce our feelings of negativity or distress, but it also helps to boost our creativity and sense of psychological well-being overall.
Methods of creative expression and art
Though creativity is often thought of as a quality that is innate, research has shown that it can be cultivated and enhanced through different methods of creative expression. Art in all forms allows us to explore new ideas and perspectives, which can lead to more positive feelings and increased creativity in other aspects of our lives.
There are countless artistic activities that can have a positive effect on the mind and spirit of an individual. But one thing that all forms of creative expression have in common is that they allow us to tap into new imaginative ideas that can be applied in a number of different ways. Some of the most popular forms of creative expression include:
This type of art is very distinguishable by its lack of recognizable imagery or meaning. Because abstract art is open to interpretation by the viewer, it can be a very powerful tool for self-expression and creativity. Some of the most famous abstract artists of the 21st century include Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Wassily Kandinsky.
Abstract art has been used by therapists for decades as a tool for helping people tap into their creative abilities and express themselves in new ways. Whether it's through painting, sculpture, or other mediums, abstract art can be a great way to access our subconscious minds and explore our thoughts and feelings in a more meaningful way.
The most well-known use of abstract art in therapy settings is the Rorschach Inkblot test. This is a psychological tool that was used in the early 20th century that involved showing patients inkblots and asking them to describe what they saw. Based on the patient's response and subconscious expression, the therapist could gain insight into their psychological state.
Music is another form of creative expression that has been shown to have many positive effects on our minds and bodies. Studies have shown that musical engagement can improve memory, focus, and attention, as well as reduce stress levels and provide relief from anxiety. Psychologically, it can also boost our mood and help us feel more connected to others, as music releases oxytocin into our brains.
Country music legend, Dolly Parton, speaks often about the positive effect that music has had on her life. Growing up in poverty, she was often bullied for her appearance, and in response to this negativity, Dolly turned to music as an outlet for self-expression. Now, music plays a substantial part in her life both professionally and personally – not only did she write more than 3,000 songs throughout her career, but she also founded a nonprofit organization called the Dollywood Foundation that helps children with arts education.
No matter what form of creative expression you prefer, there are many ways to integrate it into your life and reap the psychological benefits of this type of engagement. Whether through abstract art, music, or other forms of creativity, making art and exploring your artistic side can help you feel more connected to yourself and socially connect with others around you, as well as boost your mood and help you develop self-confidence.
Movement-based creative expression
A movement-based creative expression is an art form that utilizes motion and physical activity to express emotion, thought, and feeling. Examples of this include dance, martial arts, movement therapy, and other similar types of artistic expression. When one engages in this art form, he or she can express creativity by learning new movements or dancing styles that are expressive and meaningful.
There is something inherently freeing and joyful about movement-based creative expression, and it has been long documented that movement can be incredibly beneficial to physical and mental health. Studies have found that engaging in regular physical activity, such as yoga exercises, can reduce stress levels, relieve chronic pain, and improve overall health outcomes and quality of life.
Additionally, there is a growing body of research that suggests movement can also have a profound impact on the mind and creativity. In fact, statistically, significant improvements have been shown and associated with increased cognitive functioning, an enhanced ability to problem solve, and improved focus and concentration with movement-based creative expression.
Visual art such as painting, drawing, sculpting, and printmaking can be powerful tools in the journey to positive mental health. Studies have shown that creating art can reduce stress levels, decrease physical symptoms of depression or anxiety, and boost self-confidence. It’s not just about the outcome of the artwork itself – it’s about the process.
In the age of technology, visual art is perhaps more important than ever. Many of us spend our days looking at screens and interacting with computers, tablets, and smartphones instead of creating things with our hands. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or burned out, taking some time to work on a painting or drawing can help clear your mind and restore your sense of balance.
Expressive writing has been increasingly recognized as a powerful tool to promote mental well-being. This type of writing involves the exploration of personal thoughts, negative emotions, and experiences with an aim of increasing self-awareness and providing greater insight into our behaviors and beliefs.
By engaging in expressive writing, an individual can work through difficult emotions, process traumatic events, gain clarity and perspective, and develop greater self-understanding. Many breast cancer patients, for example, find that expressive writing can help them gain greater acceptance of their diagnosis and the consequences it brings. Additionally, those struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions may benefit from the cathartic effect of writing about their thoughts and feelings.
Expressive writing can also help to build and sustain a sense of connection with others by allowing us to share our deepest thoughts and feelings. The blogging community is a perfect example of this. People from all walks of life and with a variety of experiences come together online to socially connect, share their stories, and support one another.
In younger people, the developmental benefits that expressive writing facilitates may include improved skills in interpersonal relationships, problem-solving, and emotional resilience. By putting down the technological devices and instead pushing the limits of their imagination through writing, children, and teenagers can decrease anxiety, develop self-confidence, and better engage with the world around them.
There are many different techniques that can be used in expressive writing exercises, such as free writing, journaling, poetry, or even simply describing one's thoughts and feelings. One of the benefits of expressive writing is that it can be done in a number of different settings, from structured workshops to informal practice at home. Regardless of how or where an individual chooses to engage in expressive writing, the ultimate goal is to promote greater self-awareness, positive change, and enhanced well-being.
Mental health benefits of creative activities
Creativity is often seen as a frivolous endeavor, something that's done for fun and has no real-world value. But what if we told you that creativity could actually change your life for the better, in ways you never thought possible?
It's true. The healing power of art with creativity is undeniable. Whether you're working on a large-scale painting or simply doodling in your sketchbook, the process of creating art can be therapeutic in so many ways.
Here are the top 15 mental health benefits associated with creative activities:
1. Boosts mood and reduces stress. When you engage in activities such as painting, writing, or crafting, your brain releases endorphins that help to improve your overall mood. This can be especially helpful when you're feeling stressed or anxious, as these activities can help to calm your mind and ease troubling thoughts.
2. Enhances self-expression. Many people turn to creative activities as a form of self-expression, whether it's through writing, drawing, or performing. This can help you to better understand your own thoughts and feelings, and to communicate them in a way that others can easily understand.
3. Improves problem-solving skills. Creativity often requires you to approach a problem from multiple angles, which helps to enhance your ability to think critically and creatively. This can be especially useful if you're feeling stuck or unable to find solutions on your own, as engaging in creative pursuits can help you come up with new ways of thinking about the issue at hand.
4. Enhances self-confidence. When you engage in activities that promote creativity, you often need to put yourself out there and try new things, which can be a great way to boost your overall sense of self-worth. This increased confidence can help you feel better about yourself, as well as more motivated to take on new challenges in life.
5. Increases social connectedness. Many creative activities involve collaboration or working with others, which can help you to build meaningful connections with those around you. This social connectedness is crucial for mental health and well-being, so engaging in creative activities can be a great way to promote more positive feelings of belonging and inclusion.
6. Boosts brain functioning. Creativity is often associated with the right side of your brain, which is responsible for things like visual processing and spatial reasoning. This means that engaging in creative activities and exploring imagination can actually help to improve brain function, keeping your mind sharp and engaged as you age.
7. Encourages self-acceptance. When you're creating something new or doing something that you've never done before, you may encounter feelings of uncertainty or self-doubt. But engaging in art therapy can help you to learn to accept and embrace your own abilities, allowing you to recognize that you're capable of more than you might think and form a positive identity.
8. Improves mood and sleep quality. Many people with depression or anxiety find that creative activities help to improve their moods, leading to improved sleep quality at night. This can be especially helpful for those who are struggling with mental health issues, as it can give them another tool for managing symptoms between therapy and medication appointments.
9. Increases resilience. The process of creating something new often requires you to adapt and change in response to challenges or setbacks, which helps to build your overall resilience. This can be especially helpful if you're facing difficult life circumstances, as it allows you to continue moving forward despite potential setbacks.
10. Promotes mindfulness and self-care. When you're engaged in a creative activity, you often need to immerse yourself fully in the present moment and be completely focused on what you're doing. Yoga exercises can be an excellent way to practice mindfulness and promote self-care, helping you to stay grounded and connected to your own needs and desires.
11. Alleviates depressive symptoms. Many people have found that engaging in creative activities is an effective way to alleviate their depressive symptoms. Creativity helps you to increase positive emotions and thoughts even when you're feeling down, which can have a powerful effect on your mood, well-being, and other health benefits.
12. Slows cognitive decline. A long-term study conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association found that cognitive decline can be significantly slowed for older adults who engage in creative activities. This means that activities, such as adult coloring books or art-making classes, may help preserve your quality of life and keep your brain functioning at its best even as you get older and start to experience age-related decline and health outcomes.
13. Increases motivation. When you are creating something new, whether it's art or music, or a project, you often need to stay motivated and focused in order to finish the task at hand. This can be a great way to boost your motivation and keep you feeling productive even when life gets hectic.
14. Encourages positive psychology. Positive psychology is the study of how to live a happy and fulfilled life, which can be greatly enhanced by creative activities. Creative activities can help you work through a negative mood and experience more positive emotions, which are crucial for overall happiness and well-being.
15. Facilitates a flow state. Many people feel like they "lose themselves" in creative activities as if time has ceased to exist and they're completely immersed in the present moment. This can be referred to as a "flow state," which is linked to increased focus, happiness, and overall well-being.
Overall, there are many short and long-term benefits associated with creatively stimulating activities, including improved mental health and well-being. So if you're looking for a way to promote better physical and mental health, try exploring one of these fun activities today!
How can I improve my creativity?
You don't have to be a gifted artist in order to experience the mind and body benefits of creativity. There are many different strategies that older adults can use to improve and expand their creative thinking. Some of these strategies include practicing mindfulness, challenging yourself to try new things, and cultivating a growth mindset. But the best creative pursuits are rooted in exploring imagination.
Here are some top artistic activities for improving your creativity:
Remember when you were a kid and could dream up incredible ideas and make them a reality? One of the best ways to improve your creativity is to tap into that childlike imagination and embrace your playful side.
The way that nature affects creativity and play is an important factor in influencing our imagination. Studies have shown that spending time outside has been linked to increased creativity, as nature can relieve stress, boost brain activity, and have a positive effect on the flow of ideas. One way to get more creative is by exploring new places and trying fun activities, such as going on hikes, discovering local parks, or trying out a new sport.
This could also mean simply playing with different art materials. By engaging in activities that help you think more creatively, you can boost your creative thinking skills, develop self-confidence, and expand your potential for coming up with great ideas.
There's a reason that the old adage "dance like no one's watching" has stuck around for so long. Dancing can be a great way to improve your creativity, as it encourages you to move freely and explore different rhythms and patterns. Whether you like dancing solo or with others, dance classes are a wonderful way to get energized, challenge yourself creatively, and work on developing new skills.
Scientifically, uninhibited dancing has been shown to stimulate the body and mind in a number of ways. It encourages physical activity, which can help reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being. Studies have also found that dancing improves cognitive function and increases the production of endorphins - chemicals in the brain associated with positive emotions. Additionally, it allows you to engage your body and mind in a single, unified activity, which can help you to fully immerse yourself in the present moment and assist with body image issues. So put down the technological devices, turn up the music, and get to dancing!
Sing or play music
Another way to tap into your creativity is by singing or playing music. Music releases oxytocin in our brains and possesses the ability to express a wide range of emotions and stimulate creative thinking, as well as lower blood pressure and encourage positive moods. It can also be a great tool for exploring different ideas. Famously, many of the great innovations in human history have been inspired by professional singers and musical experimentation.
At the very least, singing or playing your favorite musical instrument can be a fun way to de-stress and relax after a long day of work. Whether you want to sing in the shower, take vocal lessons, or learn an instrument, tuning into your inner musician is another great way to improve your creativity and stimulate new ways of thinking.
Draw or Paint
Have you ever wondered why the "adult coloring book" became so popular a few years ago? With anxiety disorders on the rise, more people are seeking relief through art. Adults and children alike can benefit from taking time to sit down with coloring books. Whether the activity feels like play or work, coloring is good for your mind, body, and soul.
Painting is also a wonderful way to tap into your creative potential. Whether you prefer working with pencils, pens, or paints, spending time creating art is a great way to engage all of your senses and stimulate new ideas. If you're looking for inspiration, try visiting an art museum or searching online for different drawing or painting tutorials. There may even be an art therapy program nearby.
With plenty of patience and practice, you can become a skilled artist able to create stunning paintings and drawings that express your unique creativity. Whether you prefer realism, abstract, or something in between, the possibilities are endless when it comes to drawing and painting. So why not explore your creative potential today? You never know what amazing pieces of art you might create!
Creative expression is a vital part of human life. It allows us to communicate our thoughts and feelings, explore new horizons, and connect with other people. When we engage in creative expression, we are tapping into our intrinsic creativity, which can have a positive effect on our mental and physical well-being.
Whether you’re an artist, musician, writer, dancer, or just someone looking for emotionally positive stimuli, engaging in creative activity can help you feel more connected to the world around you and lead to a more joyful life. To further nurture your mind, body, and soul, you can also explore self-reflection through a set of thought-provoking questions. Check out these 45 self-reflection questions that can deepen your self-awareness and promote personal growth.
Erikson's stages of psychosocial development can provide valuable insights into personal growth and self-discovery.
To get started with your creative goals, try attending a class or workshop led by an art therapist, or explore different types of art and creativity online.
If you want to explore more about personal development and self-awareness, check out our blog post on The Alpha Male Explained: 9 True Signs You're an Alpha Male.
What form of creative expression brings you joy? How do you use it to connect with others or work through your own traumatic experiences? Let us know what positive impact or health benefits you've experienced through art therapy or other creative expressions in the comments below!
About Julian Lewis
Julian Lewis is a driven and accomplished professional with a passion for driving positive change in the business world. He is the co-founder and COO at Zella Life.
His own experience as a professional of color in a Fortune 500 company led him to discover the limitations for advancement that many professionals like himself face. Determined to reach his full potential, Julian became an established business coach and entrepreneur, committed to supporting others in their pursuit of personal and professional growth.
Today, Julian is a recognized corporate trainer, coach, and leader, known for his ability to leverage real-life experiences and evidence-based methodologies to affect positive change within individuals and organizations. As the leader of Zella Life's coaching division, he is dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses to achieve their full potential.