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Study Says Art Makes You Mentally Healthier, Even If You’re Not Good At It

Study Says Art Makes You Mentally Healthier, Even If You’re Not Good At It

Not all of us are artists. But all of us can paint, sculpt, draw, sketch, and do some forms of an artsy thing, on varying levels. Some of us are just naturally more gifted than others, but it doesn’t matter. If you enjoy it, do it. You really don’t have to make a living out of it, and if you are unsure as to whether you might enjoy it, still do it. Not only is there a possibility that you might like it, but also a possibility of making you mentally healthier. Yes, you heard it – mentally healthier. Research has shown:

  1. Music and art may have a positive effect on physiological states.
    Art can improve the well-being of breast cancer patients. In a study, art reduced negative emotions and improved positive ones.
  2. Art can improve overall health and well-being, by offering a form of distraction, improving self-identity and providing a social network to those with chronic illness.
  3. And a recent study in 2016, by Kaimal et al, entitled: Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making found that making art can significantly reduce stress levels, regardless of artistic talent or experience.

This was a finding that was and wasn’t surprising. Girija Kaimal, EdD, mentions to Drexel Now:

“It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”

The Experiment

39 Students (33 women and 6 men), between the ages of 18-59 were included as part of the study. There was a diverse representation of race: 18 students reported limited prior experience with art making, 13 some experience, and 8 extensive experience.

The study involved an hour session of which 15 minutes were used for consent and data collection prior and after the session. The remaining 45 minutes were used for art-making. Creative expression took the form of collages, clay modelling, and/or markers.

Using the three mediums (separately or combined), the participants created an imagery of choice. An art therapist was in the room to handle any questions. Saliva samples were taken before and after to test Cortisol Levels. Cortisol is a biological indicator linked to stress. The higher the level, the higher the stress and vice versa.

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Not only was a statistical analysis done, but participants were then asked to provide a brief written description of their experience. One 38-year-old African-American woman said the following after the experience:

“It was very relaxing. After about 5 minutes, I felt less anxious. I was able to obsess less about things that I had not done or need[ed] to get done. Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective.”

The Results

Cortisol levels were significantly lower following the session. In fact, 75% of people demonstrated lower Cortisol levels. Cortisol levels didn’t differ based on prior experience with art-making, media choice, race, and gender. There were differences (only slightly) in levels based on age and time of day.

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Younger individuals displayed a greater reduction in stress levels than older people after art-making. Kaimal provides an explanation for this:

“I think one reason might be that younger people are developmentally still figuring out ways to deal with stress and challenges, while older individuals — just from having lived life and being older — might have more strategies to problem-solve and manage stress more effectively.”

In terms of the time of day – the research continues to point to stress levels being higher in the morning and tapering off over the course of the day. This could be explained by the fact that people ready themselves for a busy day and are engaged in all sorts of activities and then towards the end they unwind in preparation for bed.

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Kaimal plans to take this research further exploring the link between the reduction in stress levels and creative self-expression in a therapeutic environment. She also plans to look at the effect of the visual arts on the elderly and their caregivers.

So whilst some of us may be naturally more gifted than others, it really doesn’t matter. Create art for the enjoyment and realize it’s many benefits.

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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