I’ve been interested in the links between creativity and emotional wellbeing ever since I worked on the Creative Alternatives project 12 years ago. The project delivered creative workshops and outings as a ‘treatment’ for depression and anxiety. Through this I saw the dramatic impact that creativity can have on people’s lives, how it brought them out of their shell, and increased their confidence and sense of self-worth.
I was reminded of this powerful relationship between creativity and wellbeing recently when I attended an expressive arts workshop with ENSOU. I found it so freeing to spend a day using pastels, collage and clay to playfully expressive myself and meet with other like-minded therapists.
There can be a lot of negative thoughts which get in the way of us being more creative, such as ‘I’m not very artistic’, ‘I don’t know how to’, ‘I’ll get it wrong’, ‘I haven’t got time to be wasting on things like that’, ‘it’s too childish’. If we can have the courage to let go of these preconceptions a whole world of possibilities in coping better with depression and anxiety opens up for us.
A 2016 research study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology asked participants to record how much time they spent every day on creative activities and to rate what their mood was like. After only two weeks researchers found that the people engaging in creative activities tended to report more positive states of mood, such as ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘flourishing’, than those not engaging in creative activities.
Creativity is a broad term, which means there is something for everyone, with examples including writing, photography, poetry, pottery, knitting, playing a musical instrument, baking, or gardening. Personally, I enjoy cross stitch, paper cutting, colouring books, and decopage.
Just as there are many ways of being creative, there are also many ways in which creativity can help to alleviate depression and anxiety.
It may be that you want to use the creative process as a way of understanding yourself and your emotions. Creativity provides us with an opportunity to explore our emotions, to sit with them and give them a voice. Creativity brings our inner world into the outer world.
On the other hand you can use creativity to distance yourself from unsettling emotions and thoughts. I find that if I am focusing on cross stitch, for example, I can’t worry about x, y and z because there simply isn’t space in my head for those thoughts! It’s a bit like pressing our mind’s ‘pause button’, which psychologists often call a state of ‘flow’ and has similarities with ‘mindfulness’.
In our busy world, creative pursuits can be a rare moment for you, a space away from juggling responsibilities such as work and family. However, for others, creativity can be a group project and therefore a great antidote to loneliness. Joining a craft group, choir or poetry class can be a very rewarding way to meet like-minded people and form new friendships.
One of the things I love about crafts such as paper cutting is that I’ve made some nice gifts for family and friends. In our digital age there is something so satisfying about tactilely engaging with materials and creating something. When we complete the project there is that wonderful ‘I did it!’ feeling of accomplishment, which increases the dopamine in our brains – a chemical which research has shown is in short supply when we are in a depressed state.
Having said this though, it’s important not to get too caught up on the end product as those feelings of perfectionism start to creep in and we risk bringing out mood down. Instead, focus on the process itself, enjoying the fact that you are learning something new and making time for yourself.
I hope this blog post has inspired you to make time for a little more creativity in your life – I’d love to hear from you about what you enjoy doing. I’ll be sharing some pictures on Facebook and Twitter this month of creative projects I’ve been working on, so please feel free to do the same!
The Artists Way by Julia Cameron
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts as Healing by Natalie Rogers
A Book That Takes it’s Time by Irene Smit
Ella writes on the Mind website about how creativity has helped her to cope with PTSD and , depression.
You Tube has LOADs of ‘how to videos’ to explore whatever your creative interest might be, just pop it in the search engine!
Not Alone Notes – a beautiful project which uses creativity to give hope to people living with OCD.