The Magical Stress Busting Powers of Creativity.

As an Art School graduate and someone who has been creative all my life I always knew I enjoyed making things. It wasn’t till I discovered Calligraphy and the wonderful calming, brain boosting effects it provided that I realised I didn’t just enjoy being creative, I needed it.  This made me look further into the health benefits of being creative and, without sounding too evangelical, I’d like to share some of the interesting things I’ve discovered along the way..

But first, let’s have a bit of background!

We live in a ridiculously fast paced world, we’re ‘switched on’ all the time at our desks, on our phones, tablets and computers. We are in demand and the pressure of managing a work/ life balance is intense. How often do you get to stop, and breathe, and just be you for a little bit? Not very often i’d imagine!

Allowing your brain time to pause and think (or perhaps not think at all!) is almost classed as a luxury these days. Mindfulness and Meditation has seen a rise in popularity, yoga classes are packed and yet we’re still a stressed out nation.

I tried meditation when I was stressed but found out very quickly I couldn’t do ‘nothing’, even though the nothing was supposed to be good for me.  My mind was scattered, I couldn’t concentrate, ten minutes felt like a veeeery long time and I got distracted. I thought I had failed at the first hurdle destined to live stressed out my nut for the rest of my days, but it turned out I just hadn’t found the right stress busting activity.

Finding your calm/ reducing your stress/ clearing your mind/ looking after yourself, whatever you want to call it… it’s all about discovering what works for you! If, like me, you struggle with meditation then perhaps you need an activity that helps you to find that quiet place in your brain. The practice of calligraphy and the repetitive actions help focus your mind on what you’re doing, so by default your brain starts to turn off the stress.

You soon find that you forget about the report you have to write, or the worries you have about your family, work and life. The more you practice the better you become, so you also feel a sense of achievement which boosts your mood! It’s a win/ win situation really. More often than not, what started out as a ‘I’ll just do ten minutes of this’ turns into, ‘whoops where did the last hour go!’ I’ve lost days to drawing, there are significant amounts of beans on toast been consumed in my household as I exchanged dinner prep for calligraphy but do you know what? I’m totally cool with that.

So going back to why I started writing this, here are my top 5 facts about creativity and its magical stress busting powers, snuggle in… we’re going to get emotional.

5 FACTS about WHY creativity IS GOOD FOR YOU

1.     Brain Boostin’

Engaging in creative tasks promotes the production of new neurons, which are crucial for maintaining a healthy central nervous system.

Neurons are the clever things that make your brain work… so basically being creative makes you more intelligent. Anything that promotes neuron growth sounds good to me!

2.     Stress Bustin’

A study in Taiwan discovered that the practice of calligraphy had a greater calming effect than meditation. Participants who took part in the calligraphy workshop demonstrated a more significant reduction in their stress levels than those who took part in the meditation workshops.

 Additional studies have found that the practice of Chinese calligraphic handwriting has the ability to decrease your heart rate and increase your skin temperature – so it calms your heart as well as your brain, that has to be a good thing!  These principles can be applied to the practice of modern calligraphy too.

There’s a Buddhist monk called Thich Nhat Hanh who practices calligraphy for mindfulness, and has exhibited his work all over the world in order to raise awareness of this form of mindfulness. For him it’s not just about the act of creating but the calming effect on his mind, controlling his breathing, slowing his heart and feeling ‘grounded’.

3.     Future Proofin’

CNN reports that people who take on craft-based projects in midlife and older have a 45 percent less chance of developing cognitive issues such as dementia.
— https://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/09/health/creativity-socializing-delay-dementia/

But it’s not just CNN, there have been a number of studies looking into the correlation of being creative and how this can help stave off Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Keeping an active brain is essential for good brain health, challenging yourself with creative activities is a key way to achieve this.   

4.     Totes Emosh!

Creative activities have been shown to improve overall emotional health. The AJPH notes that creativity increases our control over emotional pain and depression
— https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/

Art Therapy has been around for years and while there will always be a select bunch that regard it with disdain it’s benefits to body, mind and soul is clear! Being creative a great way to express yourself, work out how you are feeling and use it as a release for your emotions.

In addition, calligraphy has recently been tested with cancer patients as a way to reduce depression. While further testing needs to be completed before any conclusive outcome can be reported the initial stages are showing that the practice of calligraphy is improving the mood of the patients who are taking part.

The Influence of Art Making on Anxiety: A Pilot Study also revealed the psychological effects of creating art. It is said to "significantly reduce a person's state of anxiety" and has led to conversations about the use of art therapy to help students deal with stress for a calmer university life.

5.     It Doesn’t take long - Make Time

It has been said that just 30 minutes of being creative can reduce your stress levels and I am a huge believer in this! Being creative is not just about how ‘good’ the final outcome is, I am more inclined to believe that the process of creating is more important than the outcome. The very act of creating something inspires a sense of contentment which plays a major part in reducing the feelings of stress and anxiety

While you may read this and think it all sounds little idealistic there are many, many studies that have hard facts about how being creative is so good for you. Neurologists are now encouraging people with brain injuries to seek out creative activities citing neuron growth as a major factor - I got so excited when I was told this! It was like someone was reading my neurons… a little brain joke for you there. You’re welcome.

FINAL MYTHBUSTER before i go…

While I would like to think that whoever reads this will feel inspired enough to pick up a pen I’m very aware that a lot of people find it hard to be creative and don’t do anything because they’re not ‘good at art’. I’d like to dispel this myth right here, right now.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE GOOD AT ART TO BE CREATIVE.

Shockeroony! Creativity comes in many forms and you don’t need to be ‘good’ at it, you just need to enjoy it!

What if it’s rubbish? So what! Did you enjoy the process?

What if it looks like your 2 year old niece made it? Who cares, did you have fun making it? And anyway, were you planning on selling it in Southebys next to a Banksy?!

It’s not good enough. Good enough for who? Reassess why you’re being creative, make sure you’re doing it for you not anyone else! The chances are you’re not planning a side hustle in watercolour pet portraits but if you really enjoy painting pictures of your sausage dog then keep doing it!

Creativity is about cutting loose, shaking off your day and relaxing into something that lets your brain run free.

Whether it’s knitting, doodling, drawing, colouring in, cooking, painting, making lampshades, pottery, music, poetry, dancing, singing, writing, cutting and sticking, paper craft or simply sitting down and doing some calligraphy drills - try it all at least once, find out what you enjoy and what helps you to switch off your brain.

(Did I mention I teach modern calligraphy?! (shameless self promotion.)

Thank you for getting through this whopping blog, I hope it’s inspired you to try something new. I’d love to hear about new creative things you’ve tried!

With love to your stressed out brains.

Jen xx

I’ve added some sources below that I have referenced above but I do plan to keep adding to this list as time goes on.

SOURCES FOR MY RAMBLINGS

https://www.themindfulword.org/2012/mindful-calligraphy-thich-nhat-hanh/

https://artfromthestreets.org/blogs/news/five-great-mental-health-benefits-of-art   

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/

http://www.artsforhealth.org/resources/VAE_Restoring_the_Balance.pdf

https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/articles/is-calligraphy-good-for-your-mental-health/

http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/documents/projects-programmes-and-initiatives/arts-and-mental-health-creative-collisions-and-critical-conversations/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/arts-and-health/201606/art-making-and-stress-reduction

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/study-says-making-art-reduces-stress_us_576183ece4b09c926cfdccac

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/08/25/why-making-art-is-the-new-meditation/?utm_term=.5b57b2bdb39c

https://www.verywellmind.com/art-therapy-relieve-stress-by-being-creative-3144581