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.  An overlooked aspect of wellness is creativity.  Researchers are starting to investigate some of the fundamental aspects of life that usually get neglected, including our basic need for creativity.

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 creative can attest to how their work makes them feel happy.  Recently science has gotten involved in helping evaluate some of the more measurable benefits of being creative.  Findings in 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,  revealed that creativity leads to benefits like: increased mood, decreased anxiety, boost in brain function, reduced risk of chronic illnesses and improved immune health.

One of the most noticeable benefits of having a creative practice is that it’s a way to improve your 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”.   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.  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.

Research has also found that music therapy and participating in improv groups or community theatre activities are a good for decreasing anxiety. One of the suggested reasons for this is that music calms brain activity, leading to a sense of emotional balance.  Expressive writing and journaling have been shown to help those recovering from trauma 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.

There is 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. 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 diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.    The research showed that being creative helps adults build up a reserve supply of cognitive function, which delays future cognitive decline.

The physiological effects of creativity are also becoming clearer.   The calming nature of creative expression helps keep blood pressure low, which is essential to preventing heart disease.

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. 

Live creatively!  People think that you are either born creative, or you are not. 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. Try drawing or painting, jewelry making, photography.  Other things you can try are writing, singing, playing a musical instrument, joining a community theatre. Write poetry or a blog.   Many everyday activities can be creative, such as woodworking and gardening or knitting, crocheting and sewing

Your quest to become creative may be more successful if you try a few of these ideas.  Keep a journal of ideas that inspire creativity and write them down as they come to you.  Schedule your creative time into your calendar and treat it as a priority.  Find a special place in your home where you can work on your projects.  A designated space allows you to leave things out without creating a mess.  When you are ready to resume your activity, your project is out and ready.

Given the health benefits of art and creativity, more people may start to view their artistic practice as important as going to the gym or taking their vitamins.  It’s fun and good for your health. Don’t be afraid to try something new.  You don’t need to be an expert, or even very good at what you do.  You are doing this for you, not for fame or recognition.   

Unleash your inner creativity!  You will be healthier for it.

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