How Creativity Can Improve Mental Health
What Does it Mean to be Creative?
When we’re young, our lives are full of creative activities. We play dress-up, make shapes with playdough, invent stories with dolls and toys. In our teens, we may have partook in the school choir, joined an after school photography club, or tried a creative writing class. However, as we get older, creativity seems to get pushed to the side by our educational and vocational pursuits, and our focus begins to shift more on supporting our partners and families. While participating in the arts can spark our creativity, there are other ways to be creative.
Creativity involves using your imagination to create something original and unique, whether it be a piece of art, a piece of writing, a new invention, or a solution to a problem. Most people associate creativity strictly within the realm of arts, however creativity can find us in a plethora of situations. In addition to the arts, creativity can also be applied to many different areas of life, such as business, science, technology, and social change. Creativity involves taking risks, experimenting, and pushing boundaries to achieve something that has not been done before. Being creative also requires a certain level of openness and flexibility. It means being willing to consider new ideas and perspectives, and being adaptable when faced with challenges or setbacks.
Ultimately, being creative means having the ability to take inspiration from the world around you and transform it into something new and meaningful. It is a powerful tool for self-expression, problem-solving, and personal growth.
Why is Creativity and Mental Health Linked?
Typically, when people are engaging in creative activities they tend to get lost in the moment. Some psychologists call this state of creativity “flow”, which is caused by changes in brain function as brain waves slow down, the prefrontal cortex temporarily deactivates, or “goes quiet,” making us less critical of our ideas and more courageous allowing original thoughts to form. Lastly, according to Dr. Brad Brenner, “during a flow state, our brain releases an enormous cascade of neurochemistry, including large quantities of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine,” which can help creativity and well-being.
Here are a few ways creativity can be a valuable tool for promoting well-being and improving mental health:
- Coping Mechanism: Engaging in creative activities can provide an outlet for emotions and help individuals process difficult experiences. This can be particularly important for people with mental health challenges, who may have difficulty expressing themselves or coping with strong emotions. For example, painting or drawing can provide a visual representation of feelings that may be difficult to express in words.
- Therapeutic Benefits: Creative therapies, such as art therapy and music therapy, are often used in mental health treatment to help individuals improve their emotional well-being. These therapies involve engaging in creative activities under the guidance of a trained therapist, who can help individuals explore their emotions and develop coping skills. A systematic review of studies published in the American Journal of Public Health found that creative therapies can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
- Boosts Mood and Reduces Stress: Studies have shown that creative expression can increase feelings of happiness, reduce anxiety and depression, and enhance overall life satisfaction. For example, writing in a journal can help individuals process their emotions and release any negative thoughts or worries.
- Fosters Resilience: Engaging in creative activities can promote cognitive flexibility, problem-solving skills, and the ability to see things from different perspectives, which can all contribute to increased resilience. For example, trying out different ways to express oneself creatively can help individuals develop a sense of adaptability and flexibility. A study published in the Journal of Creative Behavior involved over 500 participants, who were asked to complete a series of measures related to creativity, resilience, and mental health. The results showed that individuals who scored higher on measures of creativity were more likely to report higher levels of resilience and better coping skills (Kaufman et al., 2016).
- Improves Problem-solving Skills: Engaging in creative problem-solving can help build cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and decision-making. This can improve mental agility and help you cope with challenging situations.
It is clear that creativity has an immense amount of benefits especially with mental health. The results from a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology showed that individuals who engaged in creative activities, such as writing, drawing, or playing music, reported higher levels of well-being than those who did not engage in creative activities (Gross et al., 2016). So whether you’re a proficient painter, an amatour photographer, or a simple daily journaler, finding ways to practice creativity will have a great impact on your overall well-being.