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How Being More Creative Improves Your Mental and Physical Health

How Being More Creative Improves Your Mental and Physical Health

The science is in. Kids aren’t the only ones who need unstructured playtime and space to fuel their imagination. Adults could use more activities that require imagination and improvisation too, and now brain-imaging studies are showing exactly how creativity alters our brain chemistry and can boost our physical and mental health.

Time to Start Building Your Creative Capacity 

Did you know that reading the classics might be more helpful than a self-help book, knitting has a significant therapeutic effect, and like listening to music, simply appreciating art can decrease anxiety and help you feel calm and happy? Drawing, writing, reading poetry, and crafting can all help lower stress, relax your muscles, reduce indigestion and inflammation, and increase self-esteem and productivity. This is because creative pursuits help us focus our attention, similar to the way that meditating does.

Many of the physical and mental benefits of of creativity involve being in flow, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s term for that state we get into when we are so engaged in a creative task that our sense of time disappears and we temporarily forget ourselves and our “internal chaos.” We forget about our bodies and our unhelpful thoughts disappear for a while. Some people achieve that mental state when they’re swimming or running, but even the repetitive motion involved in a task like knitting can help regulate strong emotions and calm your nervous system.

Flow is especially beneficial for people with depression or anxiety, and neurological studies show that engaging in purposeful and meaningful activities such as creative pursuits can work like a natural antidepressant by improving mood. So if you could use a mental or physical health upgrade, find some time to grow your creative appreciation or jump right in with any of these activities, if you’re not already busy mastering them.

Go to Art Exhibits and Museums

Maybe you’ve had that mind-stretching, body-tingling experience when looking at a painting or a sculpture and you know what I’m talking about. Or maybe you’re one of those people who thinks art isn’t for them. Well, you don’t have to be artsy to appreciate art, or understand what you’re looking at to benefit from it. It’s the curiosity and your body’s visceral response to the experience that counts. Just one simple moment of wonder is actually doing you some good.

The areas of the brain involved in processing emotion and in our feelings of pleasure and reward are engaged when we’re contemplating a painting, especially one that doesn’t immediately make sense to us.

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    Our brain sends the same signals as it does when we’re daydreaming or thinking about the future, and goes into pleasure and reward mode. Oddly, an area called the interior insula, which is also associated with the experience of pain, is activated, but this may be part of the process of trying to find “meaning” in the art work. Take the afternoon off and go to an art exhibit or take a painting class.

    Write In Your Journal

    Stressed out? When was the last time you wrote in a journal? Before you decide that you’re already too busy responding to email and trying to cross more off your to-do list, consider the health benefits of writing. A lot of us are walking around with more stress than we can handle, and stress hormones such as cortisol are harmful to our immune systems and over time can create a lot of serious health problems.

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      A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology shows how writing or journaling about an emotional topic lowered people’s cortisol levels. Personal, expressive writing is very helpful for people suffering from any kind of psychological trauma. In studies, patients who wrote in a journal were able to sleep better, improve their mood, and heal faster.

      Read Literature That Challenges You

      Many of us love to read—hey you’re doing it right now! But did you know that reading something “challenging,” such as Shakespeare benefits your brain and your mental health? Brain scans show that the more challenging prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain than reading works that are “easier” to read and use more conventional and predictable language.

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      “Reading serious literature shifts mental pathways, helping to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike,” says Philip Davis, an English professor who has combined efforts with Liverpool University’s magnetic resonance center to study the effects that reading William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot and others has on the brain.

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        Read More Poetry

        The same research also found that reading poetry, in particular, increases activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, the area connected to “autobiographical memory.” Poetry helps us reflect on our own experiences and compare them to what we read, and it lights up the part of the brain concerned with language. “Poetry is not just a matter of style. It is a matter of deep versions of experience that add the emotional and biographical to the cognitive,” said Professor Davis.

        Not only that but there’s some evidence that poetry affects our brains in the way that music does. You know that sensation you get when you hear a song you really connect with? It turns out that the same areas of the brain that are aroused by music are set off when we read poetry. This might have something to do with the musical aspects of poetry—rhythm, tone, and word usage.

        Get Crafty

        Some experts equate the benefits of crafting-induced flow with the experience of meditation. It’s like a kind of “mental exercise” that helps regulate your attention and emotions. Whether you’re building furniture, making cute little dogs out of boiled felt, or restyling your wardrobe with origami coats, crafting can put you into a physical state of deep relaxation that alters your physical and emotional responses to stress.

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          Crafting combines self-expression, creative improvisation and problem-solving with mindfulness, which slows down your breathing and can decrease heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension.

          Building, sewing, throwing pottery, even gardening and doing home repairs activates your brain’s reward centers to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s sometimes described as a natural antidepressant. Another important factor is how these activities can build community, which is known to be one of the best antidotes to depression. Think of all those people who sell their crafty wares on Etsy—how blissed out they must be!

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            Keep On Stitching

            Many knitters and crocheters know that their craft offers stress relief, and those who do it frequently also reported higher cognitive functioning. Some of the greatest rewards of knitting can come from being in a group of fellow knitters. Studies show that people who are part of a knitting community report  “greater perceived happiness” and improved social contact and communication with others, which is linked to improved mood and brain health.

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              Knitting has been shown to have significant psychological and social benefits as well as therapeutic potential by helping people self-manage things like stress, depression and long-term illness and pain.

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              Use Your Hands

              Being involved in any meaningful creative task that requires using your hands, according to physician- writer team Carrie and Alton Barron, can help elevate your mood, stimulate your senses, and foster internal well-being. They recommend fitting 20-30 minutes in every day.

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                Discover A New World

                Indulging your creative side is like getting more mental exercise—it teaches patience and perseverance, increases your sense of pride, develops fine motor dexterity, and can bring you together with people who share your interests. And as psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott pointed out, being creative moves us closer to discovering our true self.

                 

                Featured photo credit: creative commons via pixabay.com

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                Last Updated on July 10, 2020

                How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

                How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

                We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

                We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

                So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

                Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

                What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

                Boundaries are limits

                —they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

                Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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                Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

                Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

                Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

                How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

                Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

                1. Self-Awareness Comes First

                Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

                You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

                To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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                You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

                • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
                • When do you feel disrespected?
                • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
                • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
                • When do you want to be alone?
                • How much space do you need?

                You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

                2. Clear Communication Is Essential

                Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

                Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

                3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

                Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

                That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

                Sample language:

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                • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
                • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
                • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
                • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
                • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
                • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
                • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

                Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

                4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

                Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

                Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

                Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

                We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

                It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

                It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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                Final Thoughts

                Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

                Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

                Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

                The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

                Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

                Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

                They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

                Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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