🎨 Self-expression is the new self-care
The art of creative wellness
Greetings, lovely reader!
This week, I'd like to share with you my passion for the emerging field of creative wellness.
When we think of wellness, we often think of things like healthy eating, exercise, and meditation. But health experts are increasingly recommending creativity as a wellness practice – including activities like writing, painting, crafting, singing, dancing, and playing music.
Research shows that engaging in creative pursuits reduces stress and increases positive emotions, and people with creative hobbies enjoy happier, more fulfilling lives. Doctors have even begun prescribing creativity as a mental health treatment.
Everyone is creative
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a particularly creative person, everyone is innately creative and can experience the joy of exploring their creative side.
We all start life dancing, playing, drawing, and singing, but somewhere along the way, we become discouraged. Perhaps our parents nudged us to focus more on practical skills instead, inadvertently planting the idea that creativity is a bit frivolous and silly. Or maybe a sibling or classmate was deemed ‘the creative one’, and we lost heart when our talents didn’t meet the standard they’d set.
Now that we’re adults, the biggest obstacle we face in exploring our creativity is doubting we’re creative enough to even try. Regardless of your ability, you’re entitled to express yourself creatively – and you deserve to experience the wonder, magic, and happiness that comes from doing so!
The science of creative wellness
A 2010 review of more than 100 research studies on the benefits of creativity (music, visual arts, dance, and writing), concluded that creative expression has a powerful impact on health and wellbeing. Most of the 100 studies found that engaging in creative activities decreases depressive symptoms, increases positive emotions, reduces stress, and, in some cases, even boosts the immune system.
Art as therapy
According to psychologist and expressive arts therapist, Cathy Malchiodi, “creative expression may be as important to your health as balanced nutrition, regular exercise, or meditation.”
“Art therapy is based on the idea that the creative process of art-making is healing and life-enhancing,” Malchiodi explains:
“It utilises the creative process, which exists within every individual, to promote growth, self-expression, emotional reparation, conflict resolution, and transformation. Through art-making as therapy you may find relief from overwhelming emotions, crises, or trauma; discover insights about yourself; achieve an increased sense of wellbeing; enrich your daily life; or experience personal change. It is a way to make sense of that which is painful, to create personal meaning, to enhance wellness, and to become whole.”
Cathy Malchiodi, The Art Therapy Sourcebook (2007), McGraw-Hill
The good news for those of us who don’t rate our artistic abilities is that you can experience the therapeutic benefits of art-making regardless of your capabilities. Art therapy is about the creative process, not the final product.
Explore your creativity
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you're 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written… or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen.”
Anne Lamott, writer
With all the demands of our busy lives, it can be difficult to justify spending time on creative pursuits. But self-expression is not a luxury. It's an act of self-care, the same as going for a run or making a healthy meal.
Soak up inspiration from museums, books, and the world around you. Ignite your imagination, and ignore your inner critic. Your inner critic is just trying to protect you from looking foolish. But there are worse things in life than looking foolish, like never taking a risk and always wondering what if.
You can always explore your creativity privately: Keep a sketchbook; keep a journal; sing your heart out when you’re home alone.
Or make creativity a social affair. The happiness benefits of creativity are enhanced when we collaborate, so consider joining a writers’ group, dance class, choir, or craft workshop.
Whatever you do, make space in your life for creativity. Follow your creative impulses and see where they lead you. A life of joy, wonder, and meaning awaits.