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How Being More Creative Improves Your Mental and Physical Health

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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 November 22, 2021

                Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

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                Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

                Thanksgiving, a day of pure gluttony, football, and possible uncomfortable situations with family members that you may or may not like. Oh, yeah, and the whole “know and reflect on what it is to be thankful and grateful.”

                During the holiday season many people forget what this time of year is bout and are too worried about getting the “early-bird” deals on Black Friday and making sure that they have the perfect gifts for their loved ones. I am sort of a “Grinch” when it comes to the holiday season, mostly because of that mentality by many of the poeple around me.

                But instead of being grinch-like this holiday season, I decided to simplify things and get back to what this time of year is actually is about; being thankful for what I have and what I can give.

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                Simplify

                I’m not a “minimalist” in any real sense, but in the last few months the talks of Patrick Rhone and others have got me to rethink my stance. Can you really have too much stuff?

                Absolutely.

                And with all that stuff comes the burden and the weight of it on your back.

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                If you feel that the things around you are out of control, maybe it’s time to simplify and be thankful and grateful for what you have and use. Here are a few things that you can do to simplify:

                • You know those gadgets in the drawer that you said you were going to sell? Well, time to get the listing on eBay and sell them. Or, send them to a place like Gazelle. Even if they are old and won’t get money, you can at least recycle them.
                • Get rid of things you don’t need. Like old books, clothes, tools, etc. Have something that’s been laying around forever with no use? Donate it to a charity or church. If you aren’t using it, someone else could be.
                • Find your productivity tools and stick with them. Use tools and gadgets that serve multiple purposes so you can simplify your tool set.

                Be Mindful

                You don’t have to be a master Buddhist or meditator to be mindful (although, it can definitely help). Being mindful comes down to being cognizant of the present and not keeping yourself in the past or future. It’s about living in the moment and being aware of yourself and everything around you. It’s just being.

                Without getting too “California” on you, it is super important to be mindful during the holiday rush. Rather than worrying about the things that you forgot at your house on the way to relatives or thinking about the next stop in your endless holiday travels, just breath and think about what you are currently doing.

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                Spend the time with your family and friends and don’t crush the moment. Try not to concentrate so hard on getting the perfect photo of the “awesome moment” of the day and actually miss the awesome moment.

                Being mindful over the holidays will help you be with your families, friends, and yourself allowing you to enjoy your time.

                Reflect

                As the year is coming to a close (yes, it really is that close!) it’s a great time to start reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you haven’t. Within the next few weeks we will have a more throrough reflection article here at Lifehack.org, but reflecting every now and then over your holiday break is a great way to see where you have been doing well in your life and where you need to improve.

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                Reflection shouldn’t be used to “get down” on yourself. Reflection should be used to take an honset inventory of what you have accomplished, how you handeled situations, and what you can do better. If you journal everyday (a daily form of reflection) it may be a good time to start going over some of the things that you have written and start to put together a year’s end journal entry. I mean, how else will you write your autobiography?

                But, seriously, reflecting on yourself makes you aware of your successes and faults and helps you plan and make goals for the coming year. It makes you a better person.

                So, while you are stuffing your face with bird, stuffing, and mashed taters’, remember that the holidays are much more than the superficial things. Use this holiday to become a better person.

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                Featured photo credit: Libby Penner via unsplash.com

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