How creative expression can do wonders for your health

ACTION: Adapting CANSAS to Individuals’ Own Needs                                         Recovery Conversation Theme #6: Physical Health

Grant J Everett 

Creative pastimes like art or writing or dancing or playing an instrument have more to offer besides fun. Being creative improves your brain function, allows you to express difficult emotions, and can even help with a mental health recovery journey. For example, expressive writing (where you narrate an event and explain how it affected you) is an effective way to overcome trauma, and while you might not feel the best in the immediate aftermath, the positive long-term effects are well worth any temporary discomfort. But did you know that creative pursuits can do wonders for your physical health, too? Not only can tapping into your creative side improve your overall wellbeing, but you don’t need to be an artistic prodigy to gain these benefits. Anybody can do it! 

So how could painting a picture or penning a story improve your health? 

Boosting your immune system 

Want a good reason to keep a journal? Studies show that people who write about their daily experiences have a stronger immune system. A randomised trial of people undergoing HIV treatment were asked to regularly write about their experiences, and this group exhibited a marked increase in their CD4+ lymphocyte count (which is what HIV attacks, making this a matter of life and death). 

Listening to music can also rejuvenate the functioning of your immune system, stimulate the limbic system and help us deal with stressful stimuli. 

Helping you deal with pain 

Writing has been proven to help with chronic pain management. After expressing their angry feelings in writing, a group of people dealing with conditions that cause chronic pain noted improved pain control and a decline in severity after a period of 9 weeks. 

Flowing into happiness 

Have you heard of flow? It’s what you call it when you’re completely absorbed in something, the kind of focus where you lose all sense of self and time. When you are creating something, no matter what it is, your brain is flooded with the feel-good motivational chemical dopamine. A dopamine hit will encourage you to indulge in similar behaviour in the future. Any repetitive creative motions like knitting, drawing, or writing can activate this flow, and triggering it reduces anxiety, boosts your mood, and even slows your heart rate. Better yet, dopamine is a natural anti-depressant, and being happy can work wonders with your health. 

A form of meditation 

The average person has about sixty THOUSAND thoughts a day. A creative act can help focus the mind, and the calming effects it provides the brain and body are comparable to meditation. As meditation has many, many proven health benefits, this is a good thing. 

Trimming a few kilograms 

Dancing is one of the more physical forms of creative expression, so it’s no surprise that it has many health benefits. For instance, a study focusing on breast cancer survivors found that dancing helped to improve their shoulder function, and had a positive impact on their body image. 

Dancing can also be a fun way of keeping fit. In 2014, Roni Tarver became a media sensation after losing 45 kilograms with a dance routine. 

Recent research has shown that Zumba programs can improve blood pressure and triglyceride levels, while previous studies have linked aerobic dance with better weight management. 

A Korean study from 2007 that looked at hip-hop alongside aerobic dancing found that participants not only experienced improved mood, but also reported lower levels of fatigue. 

So with all the great health benefits that creative pursuits have to offer, why not take advantage of it by welcoming more art into your life? Start scribbling, shaping, or getting your hands dirty. Put on a CD, or pick up a guitar. No matter what form it takes, get creative! 

Perhaps you’d like to exercise your creativity by writing an article for Panorama? If so, let us know! 

“What are the health benefits of being creative?”, Maria Cohut, Friday 16 February 2018 
“The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature”, Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel, February 2010 
“Here’s How Creativity Actually Improves Your Health”, Ashley Stahl, Forbes website, Jul 25, 2018 

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