When we think of wellness and the habits that are vital to our wellbeing, we immediately think of diet, exercise and sleep as the standards of health. But an overlooked aspect of total wellness is creativity. As we learn more about what contributes to a well-rounded and healthy lifestyle, researchers are starting to investigate some of the more intrinsic aspects of life that usually get neglected, including finding that elusive creative outlet.
Developing a creative outlet is an essential aspect of our emotional and psychological wellbeing. Having projects or hobbies to consistently work on and dedicate our time to gives us a sense of purpose above and beyond regular responsibilities. People who consider themselves creatives can attest to how their work makes them feel happy. But not until recently has science gotten involved in helping evaluate some of the more measurable benefits of being creative.
A 2010 review published in the American Journal of Public Health called The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature, aimed to do just that—measure how creative practices enhance health and wellbeing. Their findings revealed strong connections between art and mental health as well as physical health benefits. Specifically, these researchers found that how creativity affects the brain and body leads to benefits like increased mood, decreased anxiety, heightened cognitive function, reduced risk of chronic illnesses and improved immune health.
Here’s a deeper look into how creativity is good for your health.
One of the most noticeable benefits of having a creative practice is that it’s a way to elevate mood. If you were to ask most people why they pursue a creative hobby or outlet, they’d likely respond with something like “it makes me feel good”. Many people may not understand fully why their creative expression makes them feel good, they just know that it’s something they have to look forward to outside their normal routine.
Having something that you enjoy dedicating a portion of your time to is fulfilling and uplifting. It’s something you can turn to if you’ve had a bad day and use to release and express yourself. Knowing that you have a creative medium that’s yours contributes to building a positive self-identity. Additionally, as you commit yourself to a kind of art, whether it be writing, music or painting, you’re demonstrating to yourself that you can develop a skill over time, which is an important component of self-esteem.
Building on the first benefit of bettering mood, creative expression is also considered to be healing for those suffering from anxiety, depression or trauma. Research has found that music therapy and theatre are a good method for decreasing anxiety. One of the suggested reasons for this is that music calms brain activity, leading to a sense of emotional balance.
For those recovering from trauma, expressive writing helps victims work out their thoughts. Other creative mediums like painting or sculpting allow the person to use storytelling and imagery as a way to process their traumatic events when it’s otherwise too hard to put into words.
Having a creative outlet has positive impacts on cognitive health. Researchers have found evidence as to how creativity affects the brain. Musicians, in particular, have been studied for the heightened connectivity between their left and right brain hemispheres. This is believed to be one of the reasons why Einstein was a genius—his mastery of the violin allowed him to effectively use both sides of his brain simultaneously.
Working on something creative, whether it’s writing a short story or growing a garden helps apply problem-solving and critical thinking skills as well. Other forms of creative expression, such as theater, have shown to have benefits for older adults in helping them to maintain the cognitive skills required to continue living independently.
One of the long-term benefits of having a creative practice is its ability to prevent degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The Mayo Clinic looked at how middle-aged and older adults who had a creative practice of any kind, such as crafting, sewing, woodworking or painting, had a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
The research showed that being creative helps adults build up a reserve supply of cognitive function, which delays future neurodegeneration. The calming nature of creative expression also helps keep blood pressure low, which is essential to preventing heart disease.
Another relatively unknown and added benefit of getting in touch with your creative side is its positive effect on the immune system. Studies have looked at how music helps to restore immune system health and decreases the body’s response to inflammation, which is a root cause of many illnesses.
For people with existing chronic illnesses, having a creative outlet can also help in the healing process by reducing stress hormone and inflammation levels. This is particularly true of the benefits of creative writing, which allows patients to have an outlet to cope with the trauma of living with a chronic illness.
Many people assume that because they don’t have a creative outlet or aren’t naturally drawn to a certain type of art form, they must not be creative. It’s a common misconception that some people are just born creative and others aren’t, as if creativity were a prize in the genetic lottery. But the truth is everyone is creative, it’s just a matter of taking chances and trying new things to discover the creative medium that fits you.
You may not ever “do” anything with the product of your creativity, other than amassing a drawer full of doodles. But this isn’t the goal or purpose of unleashing your creative spirit. The goal is to have a dedicated practice that’s just for you—one that you use to learn more about yourself and life. It’s a way for you to discover a unique way to express who you truly are, even if it never gets displayed in a gallery or listened to on the radio.
Discovering your creative gifts and taking time to let your artistic side shine is an essential wellness practice. Whether you make art or music or express yourself through writing or theatre, you’re giving yourself the gift of wellbeing while doing something you genuinely enjoy.
It’s easy for people to get caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of life. Between work, family and social engagements, it can be easy to justify dropping your creative passions. But given the health benefits of art and creativity, more people may start to view their artistic practice as a vital health habit just like going to the gym or eating vegetables.
Here are some other ways that creativity can benefit your life:
Making time for artistic and creative expression is an aspect of holistic health—the approach to health that addresses all facets of being. By fostering your creative practice, you can find deeper meaning, connection and enjoyment in your life.
If you feel out of touch with your creative side and want to develop a practice that’s right for you, it’s important to reflect on what inspires you and evokes an emotional reaction. Many people connect with their creative side by revisiting their childhood and remembering what forms of art they were drawn to. It’s possible that even as a child, you experienced emotional benefits from dance, drawing or coloring that you can reflect on today.
If you’re interested in reaping the benefits of creativity in your life, it’s important to treat your outlet as a ritual. If you continue to fill your creative fuel tank, you will continue to be compelled to create. Here are some tips on how to keep your creativity alive:
As you lose yourself in hours of sewing, crafting or painting, make sure your spine is well supported at your workstation. To help you relax into your creative practice, use back and body support tools from Relax The Back. Try our ergonomic back supports to help you maintain a well-supported spine for better body wellness.