by Lee Down

It’s estimated that one in five adults in the U.S. alone will experience some form of mental illness. This only includes those that admit to it or have sought treatment and a formal diagnosis. Unfortunately, those numbers may be even higher.

Especially with the recent surge in remote work, mental struggles have skyrocketed. Whether that’s due to isolation, self-reflection, or a combination of both, working from home creates new psychological challenges that you may not be used to. Even if you’re back at the office, you have learned that you need to prioritize your mental health in order to thrive in all aspects of life.

The good news, though, is that you are not alone. There are things that you can do to protect your mental well-being and boost your overall quality of life. There is, for example, a large and growing body of research suggesting that creating art can impact your mental health in profound ways.

Best of all, you don’t have to have the voice of Maria Callas, the agility of Mikhail Baryshnikov, or the artistic skill of Pablo Picasso to reap the rewards. This article explores the powerful role that art-making can play in your long-term mental and emotional well-being.

Processing Challenging Emotions

Painting and other forms of making art have a positive mental health impact

Even in the best of circumstances, life can be tough at times. Even the ordinary stressors of the day can easily become overwhelming if you don’t have a way to process and purge them. Art can be an ideal outlet for managing stress, understanding and dealing with complex emotions, and coping with difficult feelings.

For example, if you have recently experienced a breakup and you are undergoing the separation process, making art can be a healthy and productive way to channel the hurt, anger, and disappointment you are likely to experience as you endeavor to end one chapter of your life and begin another.

Importantly, when you engage in a creative activity that you truly enjoy, your brain literally rewards you with a shot of dopamine. When you’re recovering from a painful breakup and moving out, that surge of pleasure and happiness can be all the motivation you need to push through to brighter days ahead.

Healing Trauma

Creating art doesn’t just help us to navigate the ordinary challenges that life throws our way. Art-making is also a powerful antidote for some of life’s greatest hurts.

It has been shown, for instance, to be highly effective in helping persons with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) address their trauma through self-expression and self-reflection. Indeed, art therapy has been used to help soldiers recover from the psychological wounds of war since World War I.

Today, the practice has become prevalent across all demographics, from children who have experienced abuse and neglect to seniors who are contending with the physical and mental health challenges of aging. Art exploration can encourage seniors to be positive throughout the often-confusing and isolating later stages of life

Those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, experienced military combat, suffered traumatic injuries or accidents, or are confronting serious illnesses may not, for instance, be able to express their experiences or emotions in words. Using images, music, or dance can provide an outlet for that which is beyond the scope of language.

These are not the only benefits of creating art for those who are endeavoring to process trauma. Psychological pain can be deeply isolating. You can easily begin to feel as if no one can truly understand or even care about what you are going through. Art can provide the bridge to other people that trauma all too often threatens to take away.

When you create and share art, you’re building a sense of community and kinship both with other artists and with your audience. For example, photography fosters self-expression and community connection. When it comes to healing from trauma, there are few forces more powerful than love and fellowship.

Combating Addiction

Not only is art a powerful weapon against trauma, but it can also be a critical ally in the battle against addiction — for many of the same reasons described above. Substance use disorders are often strongly associated with unresolved traumas or comorbid psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression.

Creative work can be highly beneficial in understanding and communicating feelings that lie beyond the capacities of ordinary language. At the same time, art-making helps those who are traumatized, anxious, or depressed to break through the barriers of isolation and loneliness that psychological pain erects.

For those who are battling addiction, loneliness, isolation, and psychological pain go hand-in-hand, contributing to or worsening dependency. Art-making, on the other hand, can be a potent aspect of recovery, particularly for women and adolescents.

Improving Self-esteem and Mindfulness

The mental health benefits of art-making are both significant and wide-ranging. You can use art to help you heal from trauma, recover from substance addiction, build relationships, express yourself, or simply decompress from the challenges of daily living.

No matter what your specific purposes or goals may be, though, there are two attributes of every creative endeavor that will greatly enhance your overall mental well-being. Creating art has been shown to enhance self-esteem while also supporting mindfulness.

For example, art boosts kids’ self-esteem, bolstering the importance of arts education in schools. It’s not difficult to understand why. When you bring something new into the world and undertake a project, and bring it to fruition, your sense of self-efficacy will automatically be enhanced.

After all, making something from nothing means you have endeavored, persevered, and achieved. And when you can do that in the creative process, that can be potent proof that you have the power to succeed in other domains of life. This is true whether you’re looking to succeed at work, resolve past trauma, or manage a current illness.

At the same time, making art requires you to be mindful. If you are going to achieve your goal, then you have to remain in the present moment. Over time, as you become more practiced in being mindful as you create, you will become less habituated to ruminating on past pain or worrying about future hurts.

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The Takeaway

Creating art is more than an enjoyable way to pass an idle hour. Indeed, whether you are endeavoring to recover from trauma, manage an illness, or navigate the stresses of daily life, art-making can be the key to your mental and emotional well-being.

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5 Replies to “Creating Art Can Impact Your Mental Health in Profound Ways”

    1. Hi Kimo, from the top of the website you’ll see Artist Signup. That takes you through the registration process and setup. Also, I had to edit your comment to remove your website link. When I clicked on it, there was no website found at that url.

  1. Getting lost in creating helped me get through Lockdown whilst grieving for my husband. The exhaustion from nursing him 24/7 following a catastrophic stroke, then seeing him drop dead in front of me then being in solitary confinement during Lockdown, really messed with my head.
    Painting and drawing really restored my equilibrium. I created a character and painted illustrations and wrote stories about him. Sharing him on my Facebook page created connections which still keep me going now.

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