According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “about 1 in 4 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from major depression than men.” While we recommend working with a licensed professional counselor to address mental health issues, there’s also an untapped, easily accessible salve to anxiety and depression—creativity.
In fact, according to the theory of cognition, being creative is actually a basis for human life. It may come more naturally to some people, but everyone has a creativity muscle in them that, when exercised, can result in some surprising health benefits. Let’s explore how creativity can improve your mental health.
1. Creativity Makes You Smarter
Love music? Well, it turns out that playing an instrumental makes you smarter! While this, and other forms of creativity, can take some practice before you feel comfortable with the art form, over time, playing an instrument improves your connectivity between your left and right brain. Your left brain is in charge of the motor functions like moving and it controls logic helping you in arenas like math and science. On the flip side, your right brain focuses on melody, arts, and creativity. When the two hemispheres of your brain communicate well with each other, cognitive function improves.
We recommend playing an instrument if you don’t already! Thankfully, you don’t have to be a kid to pick up a musical instrument quickly. Here are five instruments that are easy for adults to pick up:
* Acoustic guitar
2. Creativity Increases Happiness
Have you ever been so immersed in a task that you lost track of time? Were you ever focused only on your own progress and what’s going on right here and now that you became oblivious to the outside world? If so, you’ve experienced flow. Flow reduces anxiety, boosts your mood, and even slows your heart rate resulting in an overwhelming feeling of happiness.
Repetitive creative activities like knitting, drawing, or writing help the doer experience flow, and are all tasks that create a result. When you’ve successfully finished the task, your brain is flooded with dopamine, that feel-good chemical that actually helps motivate you. Even if you don’t register the increase in happiness after finishing a task, the increase in dopamine you feel after being in flow will prompt you toward similar behavior.
For many people, flow is experienced during an activity they love, like playing music or a certain sport. Take some time to figure out when you’ve experienced flow in the past. Maybe it’s while doing something fun at work or during your favorite workout class. We recommend finding opportunities to do those activities that get you into flow and repeat those tasks on a regular basis.
3. Reduces Anxiety and Depression
Being an adult in the 21st century is stressful.
If you’re like most adults, you struggle to fall or stay asleep periodically because of racing thoughts, it’s hard to rest on your days off, and experience waves of anxiety that are difficult to manage.
Creativity comes in like a mental health superhero to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. A creative activity like crafting is likened to medication because of its calming effects on the brain and body. Doing something crafty after work and on the weekends can help you focus on something other than the thoughts racing through your mind.
Even something as simple as gardening or sewing releases dopamine, a natural antidepressant. Even if your first experience with a creativity activity can feel awkward or unnatural, over time, creative acts can help you quiet the noise in your mind so you can experience peace and calm.
Plus, creativity can help your process trauma. Studies find that activities like writing helps people manage their negative emotions in a healthy, productive way. And for people who don’t like writing, visual arts like painting or drawing helps them express trauma or experiences that they find too difficult to put into words.
Consider starting small with a short journal entry each evening before bed or tending to plants. We recommend putting on a calming album in the background to create a more meditative environment that slows you down and helps you experience calm.
4. Creativity Reduces Dementia
For the elderly, creative outlets reduce depression and isolation, offering the power of choice and decisions. Studies show that creativity helps people with dementia tap back in to their personalities and sharpen their senses.
Even if you’re not a dementia patient, it’s important to establish healthy creative habits starting when you are young, especially if you have a history of dementia in your family and want to keep your mind sharp. We recommend activities that engage your mind like word puzzles, memory quizzes, and visual arts like painting and sculpting.
Just Get Started
Creativity is active and hands on, so avoid activities that keep you in your head like meditation. Focus on tasks that engage your hands, mind, and heart. Even if your activity doesn’t feel very natural or imaginative when you start off, keep going. Eventually, you’ll find your groove in the activity you’ve chosen or find something new that brings you the wealth of positive mental health benefits we’ve talked about today.
Get ready for a happier, smarter, and less anxious version of yourself!