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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

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.[1] Art can improve the well-being of breast cancer patients. In a study, art reduced negative emotions and improved positive ones.[2]
  2. Art can improve overall health and well-being, by offering a form of distraction,[3] 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.[4]

This was a finding that was and wasn’t surprising. Girija Kaimal, EdD, mentions to Drexel Now:[5]

“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.[6] 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.

Reference

More by this author

Nick Darlington

Nick is a Multipotentialite, an entrepreneur, a blogger and a traveler.

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

1. Get Rationally Optimistic

Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

The result: no more mental stress.

2. Unplug

Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

3. Easy on the Caffeine

Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

  • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
  • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
  • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

The result: mental stress will be gone!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

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