How creativity today can boost wellbeing tomorrow

Creative pursuits such as knitting can boost your emotional wellbeing. (Copyright: Oleksii Rashevskyi)

Indulge in creative activities today, and you could well feel more joy, enthusiasm and uplift tomorrow. That’s according to research into the relationship between day-to-day creativity and wellbeing by New Zealand’s University of Utago.

Psychology researchers analysed the daily diaries of 658 university students, where they logged their experiences and emotional states over 13 days.

Patterns emerged showing that participants felt more enthusiastic and had higher “flourishing” in the days after they had been creative. Flourishing is a concept that determines overall wellbeing, happiness and potential for growth.

Lead researcher Dr Tamlin Conner said previous research had focused on how emotions can hamper or support creative activity. However, in this new study, rather than positive feelings predicting next-day creative activity, it was actually previous day’s creative activity that predicted the next day’s positive feelings and wellbeing.

Top creative activities for wellbeing include:

  • Songwriting.
  • Creative writing (poetry, short fiction).
  • Knitting and crochet.
  • Making new recipes.
  • Painting, drawing, and sketching.
  • Graphic and digital design.
  • Musical performance.

Dr Conner concluded: “This finding suggests a particular kind of upward spiral for wellbeing and creativity – engaging in creative behaviour leads to increases in wellbeing the next day, and this increased wellbeing is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day. Overall, these findings support the emerging emphasis on everyday creativity as a means of cultivating positive psychological functioning.”

Time to get those knitting needles out…

How creating art can reduce your stress levels

inktuition artCrayons, felt tips, watercolours, acrylic, clay or chalk: whatever material or medium you use, the act of creating a piece of art can help to reduce your stress levels. And that’s whether you’re a gifted artist or not, according to a new study.

Researchers from Drexel University measured the stress hormone (cortisol levels) in 39 study participants aged 18 to 59 to gauge the impact of making art on their stress levels. Basically, the higher the cortisol, the higher the stress in an in individual.

Half of the participants had little experience in creating art, and the activities in the experiment included clay modelling, drawing with marker pens, and making collages. They were given free rein to create anything they wanted.

The results showed that 75% of participants experienced lower cortisol levels after 45 minutes of art – with younger people benefiting most. One participant said that through making art he felt less anxious and more able to put things into perspective.

The researchers said: “While there was some variation in how much cortisol levels lowered, there was no correlation between past art experiences and lower levels.” There was no correlation with the materials used either.

This survey goes some way to proving the theory behind art therapy, or any other expressive therapy, that anyone can benefit therapeutically – irrespective of talent, skill or prior experience.

Time to pick up those pencils…

Why everyone needs a ‘Beckham Lego’ moment

Lego and games are more than child's play: they can help calm stress and anxiety

Lego and games are more than child’s play: they can help calm stress and anxiety

Footballer David Beckham’s admission that he plays with Lego to calm him down has received widespread coverage in the press. He finds it ‘therapeutic’ to do complicated builds, and it helps him cope with anxiety. He says it helps calm him down.

Anyone who has watched children playing with building bricks will see the look of concentration on their faces: they won’t be distracted from their creation until it is absolutely finished. They are committed and completely absorbed in what they are doing.

There is a school of thought that proves this kind of mind-absorbing, relaxing activity is not confined to children and ex-footballers.

Happiness experts and positive psychologists say that people can feel more fulfilled when they discover an activity through which they feel ‘flow’. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has posted a video on Ted contributing to the body of evidence that happiness comes from “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work”.

So, how can you achieve flow? I think it can depend on where you were as a child, and what helped you feel free, safe and exuberant. Or it can be an activity where you are so absorbed in the monotony or repetition of it that it makes you forget all your troubles. It uses another part of the brain that isn’t engaged in worrying, thinking or planning.

Examples? Cooking. DIY. Jigsaws. Painting (walls as well as canvases). Board games. Writing. Dancing. Gardening. Flower arranging. Knitting. Stitching. Golfing. Swimming. Reading.

The common denominator? As well as being a switch-off, these activities can be satisfying as well as creative. There can be an exciting and tangible outcome as a result of being in ‘flow’. And for anxiety management, anything that takes the mind off what is troubling you has to be of benefit to how you manage anxious or stressful thoughts and feelings.

What’s your secret pleasure – which you are perhaps not indulging currently – that helps transport you to more creative and fulfilling realms…?

How to express your true feelings in words on World Poetry Day

anima world poetry day

Let poetry capture the DNA of your thoughts and feelings. (pic: istockphoto.com/LoopAll)

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Robert Frost

Today is the UN’s World Poetry Day, a celebration of creativity, diversity in language and individual expression in the written word.

Whether you journal regularly, scribble down a few thoughts occasionally, or craft some beautiful prose when the muse strikes, the act of writing your thoughts down without censoring what’s coming out of your pen can be tremendously therapeutic. Here’s how to get in the healing mood for writing in rhyme –  though poems don’t always have to rhyme:

  • The act of putting pen to paper and letting it flow can be cathartic. Grab a pen and let your thoughts flow onto the page. 
  • A poem is a way of accessing a deeper part of yourself that you perhaps intuited was there but didn’t know for sure if it existed. Let it have some space on the page. 
  • Don’t worry about crafting. A poem can be a few lines long, so there’s no pressure to write a lot. 
  • Don’t censor as you write. Tell your mind to get out of the way and let something deeper come through. Let the feeling have its rise and fall.
  • No one ever sees your words but you, so don’t write as if someone were looking over your shoulder.
  • Choose ink colours that represent your mood: try red for anger, blue for sadness, or orange for power. Then experiment with colours you don’t like so much, and see what emerges.
  • Stand back and allow the true message to filter through you. Writing a poem can be surprising and revealing when you read it back.
  • Enjoy your words. Giving your thoughts a poetry shape can leave you with a huge sense of achievement.
  • Appreciate the little piece of you that has found expression in the world.