Skip the science and jump straight to the CONCLUSION
This is turning into a bit of a series, isn’t it? last week I started talking about how my life was turned upside down last year (I’ve still not revealed that yet, have I?), but I have spoken – briefly at least- about some of the effect it had on my mental health. I haven’t spoken about the impact that those effects had on my life either, but trust me when I say they were many and long lasting.
Finally forcing myself back to my keyboard in the last two weeks has had a wondrous effect: I’ve started thinking again. Not just about writing horror, but about a whole host of things. Mainly my thoughts have centered around creativity, how I can be creative and the benefits to me health-wise.
So I’ll tackle this in two parts, one of which I’ll talk about today. If you’re reading this, there is a good chance that you’re already a creative person (one point to you). This blog started out as a way for me to talk about writing, horror in particular, but the business of writing in general and those of you that have interacted with me or on this blog in the past are also authors (usually). But coming back after a year off, I wanted more, although I had already started to branch out all that time ago.
When I talk about the health benefits of creativity, I’m not just talking about writing or getting back to it, if, like me, you have dropped off the radar for a while. I’m talking about other forms of creativity, for me, related to my writing. I’ll talk about them next time, but for now I’d like to talk to you about
The Health Benefits of Creativity
For a long time (years) when I thought about wellbeing and wellness, I assumed I was talking about exercise, diets, sleep patterns and other such things. But I now know that those things only play a part in overall wellbeing. The one element I’ve left out, and you can probably guess it from the title of this post, is creativity.
The WHO (World Health Organisation) has this to say about holistic health in its constitution:
Health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being rather than merely the absence of disease or infirmity. – WHO
It goes on to say:
There is evidence that engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or as an initiator of one’s own creative efforts, can enhance one’s moods, emotions, and other psychological states as well as have a salient impact on important physiological parameters – Royal College of Physicians
There is also evidence to show that stress, anxiety and depression can have an adverse effect on many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease. That’s good, right?
A 2010 review, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature, aimed to identify some of the measurable benefits of being creative. So what do we know?
Lifts your Mood
Doing something creative makes you feel good. If you were asked why you write, for example, what would you say? You might say that you enjoy it. It makes you feel good. Why? Well, when we are following a creative pursuit, our brain will increase production of dopamine. Why is that a good thing? As it turns out, Dopamine is quite useful. It affects the following bodily functions:
- blood flow
- executive functioning
- heart and kidney function
- memory and focus
- mood and emotions
- motor control
- pain processing
- pancreatic function and insulin regulation
- pleasure and reward seeking behavior
- stress response
When you succeed at creating a result (whatever it is), your brain is flooded with dopamine, resulting in increased happiness, and whether you realise it or not, you will be influenced towards similar behaviour in the future.
Linking in with the above point, the dopamine released when involved in creative pursuits can have a positive affect on lowering anxiety levels.
The charity, MIND, has this to say about anxiety:
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. – MIND
Now I’m sure that everyone gets anxious at some point, and as an author it feels like anxiety and writing are inextricably linked. As I have previously mentioned, I have a voice in my head that tells me the what I’m writing is rubbish. Utter crap. I’m not just talking about fiction, that voice is with me now as write this.
Studies have shown that people partaking in creative endeavours have been able to lower their anxiety levels.
Boosts Brain Function
Working at a creative pursuit, which could be anything from writing to gardening, can have a positive effect on your cognitive abilities such as planning, logical thinking, creativity and focussing.
We may think of an analytic person being ‘left-brained’, whilst an artistic person as being ‘right-brained’. Research has shown that some kinds of creativity, especially in people that play a musical instrument, the left and right hemispheres of the brain connect more effectively, boosting your cognitive function.
A 2004 study found that people engaging in theatre performances exhibited improved psychological well-being, in particular word and listening recall and problem solving abilities.
Improved Immune System
Scientists don’t yet know why, but people that write about their daily experiences have a stronger immune system.
“Studies have shown that […] individuals who have written about their own traumatic experiences exhibit statistically significant improvements in various measures of physical health, reductions in visits to physicians, and better immune system functioning,” – Medical News Today
For those scientifically-mined among you, it is believed to have something to do with an increase in CD4+ lymphocytes, but that is a step beyond my understanding. If you understand this, drop a comment below!
**PLEASE NOTE** I am not suggesting keeping a diary will make you immune to Covid-19
Creativity = good.
If you just skipped to this part, you missed all the good stuff above, but in fairness, if this is all you read, you have got the essential message of this post.
Next time I’ll talk about ways to boost your creativity and creative ways to explore your writing (because ultimately, I’m an author).
My question to you:
How has creativity helped you?