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The Mental Health Benefits of Art are for Everyone

An extract from an article By Deane Alban. 



Creating art is a very effective way to stimulate the brain and anyone can do it. Learn the many benefits of art and why it’s so helpful for mental health.


There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about art.


Some think you have to be creating paintings or sculptures to be considered a real artist.

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” — Pablo Picasso


Others believe that you are either born with talent — or not.

Many are afraid that since they aren’t very good at something, there is no point and they won’t get any benefit from doing it.


Another myth is that you have to work with an art therapist to get any therapeutic benefit from doing art.

But we are all born with an innate desire to express ourselves and art encompasses a wider range of activities than you may have ever imagined.


Here are some of the best ways creative expression can benefit your brain and mental health to make you a happier, healthier person.


Creating Art Relieves Stress 


Activities like painting, sculpting, drawing, and photography are relaxing and rewarding hobbies that can lower your stress levels and leave you feeling mentally clear and calm.

Creating art provides a distraction, giving your brain a break from your usual thoughts.

The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day and 95% of them are exactly the same day in, day out! 

When you get totally immersed in a creative endeavor, you may find yourself in what’s known as “the zone” or in a state of “flow.”


This meditative-like state focuses your mind and temporarily pushes aside all your worries.

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Painting embraces all the ten functions of the eye; that is to say, darkness, light, body and color, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest.”


Creating art trains you to concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment. In this way, it acts like meditation.

A popular art trend for stress relief is adult coloring books.

This idea was first popularized in France, a country that’s number one in per capita consumption of antidepressants, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills.


Some coloring books are created with stress relief in mind and have become an acceptable adult form of artistic expression.

Many art therapists are supportive of the movement and would like to see coloring become a gateway to reach those who could benefit from art therapy.

So far, this has worked to gently transition veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) into art therapy.



Art Encourages Creative Thinking


Dr. Lawrence Katz is an internationally recognized pioneer in neuron regeneration research. He found that mental decline was due mainly to the loss of communication between brain cells, not from the death of brain cells themselves.


Dr. Katz coined the phrase “neurobics” to describe brain exercises that use your senses in new and novel ways, and creating art certainly fits this definition.


Art enhances problem-solving skills.


Unlike maths, there is no one correct answer in art. Art encourages creative thinking and lets you come up with your own unique solutions.

Out-of-the-box thinking also stimulates your brain to grow new neurons.



Art Boosts Self-Esteem and Provides a Sense of Accomplishment


You may stick your kids’ artwork on the refrigerator door to boost their self-esteem.

Hanging your latest work of art on the wall can instill in you the same feeling.

Creating art increases the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine.


Dopamine has been called the “motivation molecule.”

It boosts drive, focus, and concentration.

It enables you to plan ahead and resist impulses so you can achieve your goals.

It gives you that “I did it!” lift when you accomplish what you set out to do.

Dopamine stimulates the creation of new neurons and prepares your brain for learning.


You don’t have to produce fine art. Crafting hobbies of all kinds — knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, gardening, and do-it-yourself home repair — increase dopamine, ward off depression, and protect the brain from aging.


Art Increases Empathy, Tolerance, and Feelings of Love


A study of over 10,000 students found that a one-hour trip to an art museum changed the way they thought and felt.

Students who visited a museum not only showed increased critical thinking skills, they also exhibited greater empathy towards how people lived in the past and expressed greater tolerance towards people different than themselves. 

Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, discovered that simply the act of viewing art gives pleasure, much like falling in love.


Brain scans revealed that looking at works of art trigger a surge of dopamine into the same area of the brain that registers romantic love.


Art Improves Quality of Life for Dementia Patients


Art enhances cognitive abilities and memory, even for people with serious brain disorders.

Dementia is mainly thought of as a memory loss problem, but patients also experience symptoms such as agitation, aggression, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

When dementia patients are encouraged to create visual art, they derive obvious pleasure from it.

It improves their social behavior and self-esteem, and reduces psychiatric symptoms.


Art Eases the Burden of Chronic Health Conditions


Millions of people deal with chronic health conditions and the stress, anxiety, and depression that accompanies them.

Music and visual arts can affect patients in these positive ways:

Art let patients forget about their illness for a while, allowing them to focus on positive life experiences.

Creating art enabled them to maintain the identity of who they were before they got sick.

Creative pursuits gave them a sense of achievement.

Art helped them express their feelings.

Art reduced stress by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol.


Art Is for Everyone


Unless you have a health concern, seeing an art therapist is probably not necessary.

Creating art isn’t just for those born with talent or for those in a position to work with a therapist.

Art is for everyone! 

Albert Einstein said that “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

If it’s been a long time since you had fun expressing yourself creatively, you might not know where to begin.

You don’t have to have any particular artistic skills to get started.

Some of exercises are craft-like, such as making a dream catcher.

For those who are more analytical, you can start by creating a mindmap to visualize your thoughts or feelings.

If you don’t want to share what you are doing with others, use sand, chalk, or water to create temporary art.

Buddhists create intricate sand mandalas, circular designs with concentric shapes, that are intentionally swept or washed away upon completion.

These creations are a meditation on life’s impermanence.

Remember as you are creating that using art therapeutically is about the journey — not about the finished result.

Within each of us lies a spark of creativity.


Now that you know all the benefits artistic pursuits can provide, I hope you won’t put off exploring your artistic side any longer.