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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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