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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 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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