Have you ever noticed that you feel better after doing something creative? Like, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you feel a little lighter, brighter, happier, and generally more relaxed in yourself.
For those who enjoy creative activities (be that painting, crafting, writing, or anything else), it won’t be surprising that research highlights how creativity and the arts can positively impact mental wellness and reduce stress.
With that in mind, let’s discuss how creativity, the arts, and ‘flow’ positively impact our mental wellness and how we can use them to cope during stressful or turbulent times in our lives.
Diving Into the Research
A quasi-experimental study published in 2016 “investigated the impact of visual art-making on the cortisol levels of 39 healthy adults. Participants provided saliva samples to assess cortisol levels before and after 45 minutes of art-making.”
For context, cortisol is the hormone our body releases when we experience stress. Prolonged exposure to excessive cortisol can negatively impact mental and physical wellbeing.
In their written evaluations, the study participants stated that the art-making session was “relaxing, enjoyable” and commented about the benefits of “flow/losing themselves in the work.”
Meanwhile, the study results showed the participant’s cortisol levels had reduced after the 45-minute art-making session, which correlates to the experiences they documented in their written evaluations.
Another example is Artlift, a program in the UK in which participants were given arts-for-health interventions to improve mental wellbeing. The program lasted for seven years (2009-2016), and those involved experienced “a significant increase in wellbeing,” including lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Creativity and the ‘Flow’ State
The ‘flow state’ is something that most (if not all) creatives can relate to on an experiential level. Much like mindfulness when we’re doing a creative activity, it demands our full attention, which brings us back to the present moment, and limits negative self-talk.
While there haven’t been any significant studies (yet) into the relationship between creativity, flow, and wellness, we know what happens to our brains in the flow state. When we access ‘flow,’ dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are released, all of which reduce stress and boost our mood.
In light of this, it wouldn’t be a great leap of faith to assume that:
- Engaging in creative activities encourages ‘flow.’
- ‘Flow’ stimulates our brain to produce a cocktail of feel-good neurochemicals.
- And this feel-good brain chemistry cocktail, in turn, combats the negative impact of stress and alleviates depression and anxiety – aka an overall wellness booster!
A Pandemic Case Study On Creativity
It’s safe to say that 2020 was a stressful and turbulent period for many. Never was there a better time to discover new ways to manage stress or rediscover existing ones. Crafting was a source of stress relief for many.
During the pandemic of 2020, design resource marketplace, Design Bundles, began to notice an increase in craft-specific product purchases. The increase occurred between March 2020 and March 2021, the period when many of the ‘stay at home’ orders first came into effect and remained in place.
The total increase was 113% compared to the same period a year prior (March 2019 – March 2020). With most people across the globe stuck at home, it makes sense that existing crafters were looking for more activities to do, while others found themselves drawn to crafting for the first time.
However, when Design Bundles reached out to their creative community for more insight, they discovered that many were using creativity (specifically crafting) as a means to cope with life during the pandemic. Blogger and creative Lavania Olewa Oluban stated that:
“During the lockdown, I ended up spending a lot more time on my phone, using social media to stay connected with other people and constantly check the news for updates… Immersing my energy into crafts and projects forced me to put my phone to one side, and I was using my hands to hold crochet hooks or a paintbrush. This gave me the pause I needed to refocus and re-energize.”
Meanwhile, Shyla Elza said that crafting helped her “stay busy and feel purposeful during the lockdown.” Jennifer Royle commented that crafting “stopped me going stir crazy” because craft activities kept Jennifer occupied “without leaving the house.”
How We Can Tap Into the ‘Flow’ State
Combining these studies with a healthy dose of connecting the dots suggests that crafting and creating through turbulent periods is something to give a go. Whatever craft we choose to explore, there are tons of resources across the internet offering solutions to get involved.
Groups across social media in each creative niche are a fantastic way to learn where to start and what to try out. Companies offering easily accessible craft tools – such as Design Bundles – are also a great way to try different hobbies and see what works for you.
Whatever experience and skill set, being creative and focusing on the now within the state of ‘flow’ is absolutely a simple, accessible way to alleviate stress and refocus the mind. Taking the time to explore this can make a massive difference to positivity and wellness.