Have you ever noticed that you feel better after doing something creative? Like you can’t put your finger on it, but it feels a little lighter, brighter, happier, and generally more relaxed in itself.
For those who enjoy creative activities (whether painting, crafting, writing, or anything else), it should come as no surprise that research shows how creativity and the arts can positively affect mental well-being and reduce ‘Stress.
With that in mind, we discuss how creativity, the arts, and “flow” positively affect our mental well-being and how we can use them to deal with stressful or turbulent times in our lives.
Diving in research
A quasi-experimental study published in 2016 “investigated the impact of visual art creation on the cortisol levels of 39 healthy adults. Participants provided saliva samples to assess cortisol levels before and after 45 minutes of artistic creation.
By context, cortisol is the hormone that our body releases when we experience stress. Prolonged exposure to excess cortisol can negative mental impact i physical well-being.
In their written assessments, study participants stated that the art creation session was “relaxing, enjoyable” and commented on the benefits of “flowing / getting lost at work”.
Meanwhile, the results of the study showed that participants ’cortisol levels had decreased after the 45-minute artistic creation session, which correlates with the experiences they documented in their written assessments.
Another example is Artlift, a program in the UK in which participants were given artistic interventions for health to improve mental well-being. The program lasted seven years (2009-2016) and those involved experienced “a significant increase in well-being,” including lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Creativity and the state of “flow”
The flow state it’s something most (if not all) creatives can relate to on an experiential level. Like mindfulness when we do a creative activity, it requires all of our attention, which brings us back to the present moment and limits negative conversation.
Although there have not yet been any significant studies on the relationship between creativity, flow, and well-being, we know what happens to our brains in a state of flow. When we access the flow, dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are released, which reduce stress and increase our mood.
In light of this, it would not be a great leap of faith to assume that:
- Participating in creative activities encourages “flow”.
- “Flow” stimulates our brain to produce a cocktail of neurochemicals that feel good.
- And this brain chemistry cocktail, in turn, fights the negative impact of stress and relieves depression and anxiety, which is a boost to overall well-being.
A pandemic case study on creativity
It is safe to say that 2020 was a stressful and turbulent period for many. There has never been a better time to discover new ways to control stress or rediscover existing ones. Crafts were a source of stress relief for many.
During the 2020 pandemic, design resources market, Design packages, began to notice an increase in purchases of specific products for handicrafts. The increase occurred between March 2020 and March 2021, a period in which many of the “stay at home” orders first came into force and remained in place.
The total increase was 113% compared to the same period last year (March 2019 to March 2020). With most people around the world trapped at home, it makes sense that existing artisans were looking for more activities to do, while others were drawn to making crafts for the first time.
However, when Design Bundles turned to their creative community for more information, they discovered that many used creativity (especially crafts) as a means to cope with life during the pandemic. Blogger and creator Lavania Olewa Oluban stated that:
“During the lockout, I ended up spending a lot more time on the phone, using social media to stay connected with other people and constantly checking for news if there were updates … Immersing my energy in crafts and projects forced me to leave the phone next to me, and I used my hands to grab crochet hooks or a brush.
Meanwhile, Shyla Elza said the craft helped her “stay busy and feel intent during the closing.” Jennifer Royle commented that the craft “drove me crazy” because the craft activities kept Jennifer busy “without leaving home.”
How can we access the “flow” state
Combining these studies with a healthy dose of connecting dots suggests that crafting and creating during turbulent periods is something to try. Whatever profession we choose to explore, there are many resources on the Internet that offer solutions to get involved.
Social media groups in every creative niche are a great way to learn where to start and what to try. Companies that offer easily accessible craft tools, such as design packages, are also a great way to try out different hobbies and see what works for you.
Whatever experience and skills are established, being creative and focusing on the present within the state of “flow” is absolutely a simple and accessible way to relieve stress and refocus the mind. Taking the time to explore this can make a big difference in positivity and well-being.