In psychology, artistic approaches are used to reduce distress and also to enhance mental and emotional health. These methods are based on the idea that creative expression encourages healing and develops mental well-being. Some forms of performance art are used in expressive therapies like dance, music and drama. This can also be done through drawing, painting, photography, sculpture and other forms of visual art expression. Other examples of creative expression are baking, embroidery, knitting, jewellery making, gardening, origami, storytelling, scrapbooking and more.
Now, more than ever, we see people turning to art as a way to cope with the anxiety of the pandemic, the struggles of working from home and the loneliness of quarantine. But art and creative expression should be something we hold on to and continue to practice throughout our lives. The benefits are numerous — it can help you explore your emotions, communicate, manage stress and even lift your self-esteem. As a healing effect, it can help those suffering from addictions, trauma, attention disorders, anxiety, dementia, depression, eating disorders, PTSD or even physical illnesses.
In order to experience some of the therapeutic benefits of creative expression, we have listed out some of the basics of using art for its healing effect.
This is not at all about being gifted or familiar with the art form
You don’t even have to have a particular artistic ability or previous experience to benefit from the therapeutic effects of art and creativity. A recent study found that just 45 minutes of engaging in a creative activity can reduce stress, irrespective of previous artistic experience or talent.
Choose what you love, not what others might love
If you already have an art form that takes you to your happy place (photography, expressive writing, sculpting, creating digital art, etc.) then the choice is easy. If you don’t know what you like — be open to trying something new and see how it makes you feel.
Prerequisite for practice: no judgement
You cannot be too harsh on yourself or go into it thinking about what others will say. Hence, we suggest that you don’t post it on social media but send it only to a close friend or keep it to just yourself and talk through what you have created and what it means.
The journey is the reward
All you need is to be willing to experiment. The focus is on the process of creating and (associated) experiencing. You may not end up with a masterpiece but the entire creative process (including choosing colours or cutting out shapes for a collage) is what is therapeutic.
The creative process, as well as the conversation over the final product, will help you:
- Reflect on and become aware of how you are feeling
- Explore different aspects of your own personality
- Reduce emotional distress
- Elevate mood and foster self-esteem
- Develop coping skills
- Improve relaxation
- Increase mindfulness
Be distraction-free during this time
The setting should allow you to get into a ‘zone’ so you can express your emotions through your art. This will allow for better flow of creativity and let you gain more personal insight.
The process of creative expression is inherently empowering, therapeutic and cathartic. Not only does art help us connect with ourselves, but it also helps transport us to a world where anything is possible.
Art can help you find some calm in these times of uncertainty but even when this is all over, it will bring some creativity, calmness and contentment into your daily life. Here are a couple of tips on how to make sure you continue on this creative path, even when things settle down or go back to how they were:
1. Develop a ritual: By setting aside time to practice your art, it forms a part of your routine. It can be a daily activity or even a weekly one. Think of it as a healthy habit — like exercising.
2. Set up space: If there’s a little corner that’s just for you and your creative expression — it’ll motivate (and remind) you to spend time on it.
Now, let’s get creative!
Quoted studies or definitions:
2. Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making — 2016: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5004743/