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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 February 11, 2021

                The 20 Most Creative Instagram Accounts That Will Inspire You

                The 20 Most Creative Instagram Accounts That Will Inspire You

                Instagram allows you to see exactly what inspires people and how creativity is drawn from their everyday life. We use Instagram to capture what makes us smile, what brings joy to our life, and what we are passionate about, and the accounts listed below are sure to inspire you in turn.

                Here are our 20 top creative Instagram accounts that you should be following today.

                1. Humans Of New York

                Brandon Stanton walks the streets of New York City taking street photography, and he gets his subjects to open up about life details that even many family members may not know about them. It makes you smile and connect with the images at a new level.

                 2.  Paris in Four Months

                Carin Olsson moved to Paris and is documenting every part of her experience, from the macaroons to the Eiffel Tower with all of its shimmering lights. If you want to go to Paris but can’t get there today, Carin will take you.

                3. Civilized Caveman Cooking

                George Bryant offers up more than his love for cooking Paleo cuisine as he shares more about life, joy, and happiness. His coined hashtag is #hugsandbacon.

                4. Andrew Knapp

                Andrew has taken the world by storm with his adorable version of Where’s Waldo? His version is Find Momo, and stars his border collie.

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                5. Idafrosk

                Ida Skivenes has developed a knack for food art. From the world of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Strawberry Fields Forever, she has recreated it all with food.

                6. GrandmaBetty33

                Grandma Betty is fighting cancer and is inspiring others to smile and be happy in life. She brings a smile to your face instantly and is like having your grandma right beside you.

                7. Maya_on_the_Move

                Tania Ahsan captures the world of her cute bulldog, Maya, on her adventures in New York. Maya makes appearances that will make you smile, laugh, and inspire you to go out and create something special.

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                8. Leoleoparis

                Leo captures the life on the streets of Paris. Most of his work is done in black and white, offering that iconic Parisian look.

                9. Jacob Santiago

                Jacob Santiago creates stunning, vibrant images around New York City, showcasing the architecture and streets. I’m sure you haven’t seen the streets of NYC like this before.

                10. Julie’s Kitchen

                Julie Lee showcases how everyday produce can create colorful art designs. At first glance, you think it is just a design; then, a second take illustrates that it is really fruits and vegetables.

                11. iloveplaymo

                iloveplaymo brings together photography and Playmobil toys in action. The images are up to date with current world events and everyday life.

                12. “Red” Hong Yi

                Red Hong Yi loves to paint without a paintbrush. Her style uses daily items to create lovely images.

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                13. Alexis Diaz

                A breathtaking artist from Puerto Rico who loves to paint murals. Alexis’s work is featured all over the world.

                14. Murad Osmann

                Murad Osmann is a music video producer, but his claim to fame on Instagram has been his photographs with his girlfriend leading him by her hand.

                15. Simone Bramate

                Simone Bramate is a storyteller who just so happens to take delightful photos as well.

                16. Willie Kessel

                Willie Kessel brings beach life right to your smartphone. Amazing surf and lifestyle images that take your mind off of all of the work and stress in your life.

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                17. Nick Ulivieri

                Nick Ulivieri is a talented photographer who loves to capture the windy city of Chicago and skies, especially during storms. His images are gorgeous and make you realize how wonderful life really is.

                18. Jo Jerry

                Jo Jerry’s landscape photos around Santorini, Greece, make you want to book a flight immediately. The bright colors and simplicity in the images make his photos stand out from the rest.

                19. GoPro

                GoPro uses fan-sourced images on their account that are all captured with a GoPro. Creativity to the max is used in these images and range from the grocery store to incredible surf.

                20. Vin Farrell

                Vin Farrell is a creative who works on the agency side for large clients and has a knack for photography. His iPhone captures amazing aerial images around NYC and the world.

                Featured photo credit: Andy via flickr.com

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