Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Kind Of Suck At It

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

Have you ever felt like you were really "in the zone"? It's like nothing else exists, it's just you and the thing you're doing. It turns out this flow state is a great place to be, to stay present and out of anxious thoughts and ideas. And, even if you completely suck at it, you can get into that zone by making art. Yes, even clay ashtrays for people who don't smoke!

Art

Art, and the expression of art, is something that everyone can enjoy. Its participation is universal and it is entwined in every culture throughout the world.

There are many different ways of artistic expression. Examples include painting, architecture, sculpture, literature, music, theater and cinema, and no matter the medium, its appreciation is lauded through the eyes and ears of the beholder.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, art is “the expression of human creative skill, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Art can also be a healer, and studies have shown that art reduces stress.

Stress

The World Health Organization states that stress is one of the world’s most pronounced health risks. Among the consequences of stress are constant agitation, exhaustion, burnout, helplessness, fear, and eventually a weak immune system or even organ damage. 

The inability to cope with stress is a risk factor for various epidemiologically significant illnesses: cardiovascular, muscular, or skeletal diseases, depression, or anxiety disorders. (1)  

Making Art Reduces Stress: Study Findings

One study carried out by Drexel University in Philadelphia PA revealed that making art does reduce stress. The research focused on participants aged 18-59 years, 33 women and 6 men, with a broad range of art skills, varying from “limited prior experience” to “extensive experience.” 

The study consisted of a one-hour session that involved 15 minutes for consent and data collection, and 45 minutes of making art using collage materials, modeling clay, and/or markers. 

Data was then collected over 4 months and included a written response to the question “What was it like to make art during this session?” Saliva samples were taken before and after the art-making experience to test cortisol levels, the main hormone produced during stress.

Results confirmed a lowering of salivary cortisol in 75% of participants, with younger participants showing a greater lowering of cortisol than older participants. Researchers thought this may be due to older adults being more well-versed in their response to stress and problem-solving.

Of the other 25%, cortisol levels stayed roughly the same or went up slightly. This outcome raised a few questions for researchers such as the possibility that making art resulted in a state of arousal or engagement which could lead to higher stress levels. (2) 

Therapy Through Art

Art has been used as therapy for many years and methods can include drawing, painting, coloring, sculpting, or collage. Being a great artist is not necessary, nor is being particularly inventive or talented a prerequisite to participating. All that is required is an open mind and a sense of self-expression to create something.

While certain forms of art may be relished by one person and unimpressive to another, the findings of the Drexel University study revealed the power of making art and the potential it has in the fight against stress and anxiety. 

By using creativity within oneself, art can have a positive effect on mental health and can promote higher self-esteem and feelings of relaxation.  

Other health benefits that may be gleaned from creating or appreciating art: 

  • Reduced pain. Some studies have reported the beneficial effects of art on pain reduction by distracting attention away from symptoms. (3)
  • Stimulated mental function in older adults with dementia. There is growing evidence to support the use of actively creating art, or participating as an appreciative audience, to help stimulate cognitive function in older adults. (4) 
  • Art may help to reduce depression. A randomized controlled trial showed the power of expressive writing can improve mood over short periods of up to ten months in patients with chronic illness. (5) 
  • Self-discovery: Creating art can help you acknowledge and recognize feelings that you may be suppressing in your subconscious. Art may help to bring those to the surface and give new direction.
  • Self-esteem: The feeling of self-accomplishment from creating art can improve confidence and self-appreciation.
  • Emotional release from self-expression: One of the true benefits of art therapy is using your creativity as a form of self-expression. Letting go of feelings and fears such as sadness or anger by creating art may promote emotional release.
  • Stress relief: Fighting anxiety, depression, or emotional trauma can be very stressful both mentally and physically. Creating art can be used to relieve stress and relax your mind and body.

Become an Artist And Improve Your Health

If you suffer from too much stress, helping to create the right atmosphere for making art can be beneficial. By using Be Serene to relax and restore a sense of calm to your mind and body, you can generate the right ambiance. 

Reducing anxiousness and reactivity to the pressures of modern living, Be Serene’s rare and unique ingredients can work in tandem with your artistry and vision, to bolster your defenses in the fight against stress.

You don’t even need to possess a great deal of talent to become an artist. Tapping into your own creative vision, reproducing the works of others, or just making up art as you go along has shown to be another natural, safe, easy, and effective approach in the holistic toolbox of health and wellbeing

Art can also be relatively cheap and buying a small number of materials is all you need to get started. Equally, you can sign up for a class or college course, be home-based or sit in a park and create the world around you – anything goes.

Researchers from Drexel’s believed that previous experience in creating art might magnify the activity’s stress-reducing effects. Their study found that everyone, regardless or not of their experience, seemed to benefit equally. 

In short – Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Suck At It.

“It was surprising and it also wasn’t,” said Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor of creative arts therapies. “It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting.”

So go ahead, start making art today! You may find a hidden treasure trove of creativity that gives a real lift and banishes the blues.

Sources 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836011/
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832?journalCode=uart20#.V2GKm-YrI6g 
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28836473/ 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6025004/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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