Does digging in your garden make you feel good? When you’re stressed, do you opt for colouring, some shop time or do you turn to baking? How do you feel when you play an instrument? How do you feel when you dance? These are all forms of creative expression and it turns out that creative expression can actually improve your overall health and wellbeing.
We all take on creative pursuits simply because we enjoy them but intuitively we know that they are somehow good for us. So how does this work? Why does music or doodling make you healthy? Let’s break it down.
There’s a state of being that exists when you’re completely absorbed in something…you forget how much time has passed…you’re “in the zone” so to speak…that’s called flow. When you’re working on a project and completely lost all sense of self and time? That’s flow too. It reduces anxiety, boosts your mood, and even slows your heart rate. It’s not just being in flow that helps your happiness. Repetitive creative motions help activate flow and result in something tangible that you have created which in turn results in a flood of dopamine, the feel-good chemical. This flood of dopamine actually helps motivate you, whether or not you’re aware of it.
Improves mental health.
One creative act can help focus the overwhelmed mind and bring peace into a crazy day. Why? It’s this release of dopamine that is triggered by the flow (or being in the zone) that makes us feel good. Similar to laughter, this chemical release offers an increase in positive feelings of joy, health, and wellness. Even more so than meditation, creative pursuits have higher calming effects on the brain and body because of the release of dopamine, a natural anti-depressant. Creativity reduces anxiety, depression, and stress… And it can also help you process trauma. It is well known that writing helps people manage their negative emotions in a productive way, and painting or drawing helps people express trauma or experiences that they find too difficult to put into words.
Boosts your immune system.
Any reduction in stress is going to have a profound impact on your feeling of negative emotions and depression. With this reduction in negativity, the result cannot help but be positive. This resulting positive spin is the betterment of your overall health and an increase in your ability to fight off disease.
People who write about their experiences daily actually have stronger immune system function. While there is some question as to how it works, writing is thought to increase your CD4+ lymphocyte count, the key to your immune system. Listening to music can also rejuvenate function in your immune system. It is widely accepted that this expression of emotions can relieve stress, reduce anger and by default, improve health.
Makes you smarter.
Studies show that people who play instruments have better connectivity between their left and right brains. The left brain is responsible for the motor functions, while the right brain focuses on the melody. When the two hemispheres of your brain communicate with each other, your cognitive function improves.
Creativity goes beyond just making you happy… It’s also an effective treatment for patients with dementia. Creative engagement not only reduces depression and isolation but can also help people with dementia become more integrated with their original personalities and sharpen their senses.
So what does all this mean? Basically, every creative endeavor works against the negative and towards the positive by promoting better mental health and protecting against mental and physical disease. It’s pretty amazing that doing the activities that make us feel good (see that dopamine rush) are genuinely good for us. So, grab a pen and start writing, doodling, or coloring. Get your hands dirty in your pursuit of choice, but do it. Your mental health depends on it!