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Art for Wellbeing

Benefits of practising an art of your choice like drawing, writing, music and movement are brain health, self discovery and expression and sheer enjoyment.

1. Mind health

Creative pursuits absorb the mind in a way that can be very relaxing. Focusing on the colors, shapes, images and textures is time that is free from worries and preoccupations. A person can develop capacity for ‘mindfullness’ through creative activity. This entails paying attention to what is happening with one’s art, through one’s senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, moving, thinking and feeling) as it is happening, in a gentle, accepting way. It includes noticing bodily sensations. This enables us to feel more alive and conscious of directing a course of action, and seeing the results.

Current findings from health care research reveal that regular practice of mindfulness improves physical, emotional and mental well being, and lessens suffering.

The Society for the Arts in Healthcare is dedicated to advancing arts as integral to healthcare, and has published a number of studies that loan support to such claims. Given that alpha wave’s are connected with relaxed mental states, creative activities can prompt EEG rhythms to increase in alpha frequency, thus reducing anxiety.

2. Psychological flexibility

Some initial guidance may be useful to deal with performance anxiety, but once overcome will have far-reaching benefits. If one becomes aware of the judgmental thoughts they bring to their artistic practice, accept them rather than fight them, and continue despite them, a good degree of ‘Psychological flexibility’ can be wrought. This can spill over into other areas of life where judgmental thoughts operate. Help to do so can be obtained through art therapy or some form of coaching.

3. Self discovery and self expression

Self discovery and self expression are other great benefits. Images are rich with insights about ourselves, and new realisations are often sparked when working with imagery. Creating emotion-centered images promotes brain activity in the limbic system, engages the hippocampus, and enhances cognitive performance. Both right and left hemispheres of the brain are active during art making.

What about those who say “drawing or painting will just prove how hopelessly uncreative I am?”

4. Mental health benefits of Art

A concrete example of the health benefits of art comes from Hass Cohen, (N. Art Therapy And Clinical Neuroscience in Action. GAINS Community Newsletter: Spring 2006, (10- 12)

Research into patients with dementia who participated actively in art therapy sessions, revealed that they “allowed themselves to be drawn in by the need for human companionship and by the colors and forms of various art media. They continued to express themselves even though aware of increasing confusion and loss of cognitive skills. As they lost motivation, they were willing to be prompted to continue expressing themselves, to engage with the colors and textures inherent in various art media, and to participate in the creative process, which involves taking risks. As each of them withdrew deeper into themselves because of increasing disorientation, they were motivated enough to engage in personal relationships with those around them, responding to the encouragement to create, to the art media, and to the safe environment in the room.