“When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” Expanding on Csikszentmihalyi’s important observation on the healing quality of art, I believe that the power of creative expression and engagement in the arts can serve as an essential wellness practice for everyone. Our ability to be creative allows us to realize a transformation into the core experience of healing. It is the authentic expression of self through art making – music, song, movement, writing, and other forms of arts-based imagination – that is central to the idea of how creativity functions as an effective wellness practice.
Art-Making Reduces Stress
Over the past decade research studies have supported the idea that making art may be as important to your health as balanced nutrition, regular exercise and meditation. In a literature review on the benefits of the arts (music, visual arts, dance and writing) by Stuckey and Noble (2010), considering more than 100 studies, they concluding that creative expression has a powerful impact on health and well-being for various patient populations. Most of these studies concur that engagement in making art has a variety of desirable outcomes including: art-making reduces stress, decreases depressive symptoms, increases positive emotions, and improves immune system functioning. Even engagement in the arts as a viewer can have an impact, yet to fully benefit from using creativity as a wellness practice, research studies show that active engagement in art-making is the best solution (Bolwerk et al, 2014).
Art-Making Promotes Physical and Emotional Health
More recent studies indicate that creativity and art-making have positive and wide-ranging effects, not only on cognitive and emotional health, but also contribute to healing of physical problems such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and cancer. One of the most compelling studies, recently conducted by the Mayo Clinic, proposed that people who engage in art activities (painting, drawing and sculpting; and crafts, like woodworking, pottery, ceramics, quilting, quilling and sewing) in middle and old age may delay cognitive decline in very old age. These findings underscore the idea that it is possible to build a “cognitive reserve” through engaging in novel, creative experiences, and these experiences can have a protective effect on the brain. According to the principle investigator, “Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age” (American Academy of Neurology, 2015).
Creativity as Mind-Body Healing
And so we see that creativity as a wellness practice is increasingly being validated as an important mind-body healing approach, as well as a cost-effective intervention to address a variety of challenges for those who need to implement wellness practices into their daily lives. Although there are limitations to the existing research, the overall outcomes underscore what has been evident to us over the millennia—that creative expression is healing for us in one way or another. These simple wellness practices can come in many readily available forms including formalized approaches found in the creative and expressive arts therapies – or by simply making art for arts’ sake and enjoying the process of art as it sustains us every day.
Since we can now consider creativity as an essential wellness practice, with numerous reasons to make it part of our wellness resolutions – go create something and be well!