Have you considered the process of creating art as a wellness practice, a way to flourish mentally, emotionally or physically? Creative arts can range from free-writing in your journal, dancing spontaneously, singing, crafting a vision board, painting, drumming, concocting a new recipe, designing a garden and much more. And it doesn’t require you to classify yourself as “artist,” “dancer,” “musician” or whatever title. It’s part of our human nature to create, and art-making can be a portal to reclaim your wholeness and vibrancy when you value the process and invest in it with an open heart and mind. It doesn't have to be about the product or how it's received.
Here are 5 ways creative arts can help you thrive:
1. It boosts your self-esteem.
To witness a canvas come alive with your brushstrokes, hear your voice contribute to a melody or see a smile as someone watches you dance can be a rewarding experience. It’s a reminder that no matter how small, your actions can make a difference in this massive universe. Furthermore, completing a creative project offers a sense of accomplishment and a boost of the feel-good hormone, dopamine, increasing drive, confidence and concentration.
2. It relieves stress and promotes sustained present-moment awareness.
Making art can channel restlessness of mind or body and release and express stuck energy, like repeating worrisome thoughts. The steady patterns of movement while sewing, quilting or threading beads on a necklace can soothe the mind while harmonizing it with the body.
Moreover, when you engage in a creative activity that you enjoy and calls you to stretch your abilities, you set up the conditions to enter flow state. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains flow state as total immersion in a task at hand, in which, “There’s this focus that…leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity.” Likened to a state of meditation, you become deeply attuned with the here and now and able to respond with skillful awareness, instead of the reactivity triggered by a nervous system during stress mode.
3. It opens you up to possibilities and solutions.
Creating art is a continuous process of making decisions, from choosing words that emote resonantly while writing a poem to arranging images in a collage to project an intended feeling tone. It lures you to see the project from different angles in order to problem-solve and play with alterations. This in turn promotes imagination and neuroplasticity, which allows you to change and adapt to new situations.
Additionally, experiencing art, like watching a theater production or movie, evokes curiosity. In my interview with Positive Psychology Coach Darcy Caplan, she cited a study by Dr. Martin Seligman, known as the father of Positive Psychology, which concluded that within two to three days of experiencing art, such as being a spectator at a museum, people were more inclined to try something new, like taking a different route home from work or mustering up the courage to start a conversation with a stranger.
4. It allows you to authentically express yourself.
“Everyone has a voice and everyone’s voice matters,” emphasized World Percussion Journey Facilitator Delton Davis in our interview about the wellness benefits of participating in a drum circle. He spoke about the need to value each other’s unique ways of expressing ourselves, which manifests in the slightest difference of sound created when each person hits a drum. Among the gifts of a drum circle is the community of acceptance it cultivates through embracing the wide range of rhythms each player contributes.
During my years as a schoolteacher working with underserved children, art provided an array of inner resources for non-native English speakers to communicate with a sense of proficiency and depth. Children could truthfully draw how they were feeling or elaborately role-play stories they needed to share. Similarly, adults can capture emotions and thoughts tucked way in their subconscious mind by journaling stream-of-consciousness-style. In this way, Darcy Caplan empowers distressed clients to “name it to tame it,” as she described the process of mindfully addressing harmful thought patterns and difficult emotions to spur healing by bringing them to the forefront of awareness.
5. It empowers you to fully feel your aliveness.
In Psychology Today, Dr. Cathy Malchiodi explained, “Our capacity to actually create is where we begin to live more fully, experience transformation, and recover the core of what it means to heal. It is your authentic expression through art-making…why creativity is a wellness practice.” Creating art is a way of giving yourself permission to take up space, to be visible, to own your voice and place in creating in this world. There are a myriad ways to create and experience art. When you choose a form of art that feels personally activating, you unleash a freedom of being that comes with wholehearted expression.
Do your research and you’ll likely discover many more ways that creative arts can help you thrive, spanning multiple dimensions of wellbeing. The process of art-making has the capacity to awaken human creativity and depth of consciousness to surpass the boundaries of what we perceived was possible, even amid difficult life circumstances that may seem to inhibit us. Engaging in art strengthens the ability to visualize and manifest how you choose to experience life, as well as provide a channel to shed dark truths from your system. As Writer Maya Angelou conveyed, when the caged bird sings, it reclaims its spirit to experience freedom. Since you’re creating each moment anyway, through your thoughts, actions, words and presence, why not experiment with art as a tool to thrive?
Also a Registered Yoga Teacher, she earned her Bachelor's of Arts in Liberal Studies with a Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential specializing in Art at CSU Northridge. For over 10 years, she worked as a teacher for students ranging from 6 months to adults passionately infusing arts throughout core curriculum. Check out how she integrates creative arts as a wellness practice at Thrive Together, Women's Wellness Retreat on May 6-9, 2022 in CA. LEARN MORE...
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