For years, ‘creativity’ and ‘mental illness’ were believed to be correlated, and it has been documented since 4th Century B.C. that many of the great creative minds we read about in history were also troubled minds.
Today many studies are beginning to show that creativity can actually affect mental health positively. Any form of art can bring out a positive psychological change in an individual, and the Arts & Health Foundation has stated that participating in a creative activity can provide a mental boost. So, what is the truth?
“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail” – Edwin Land
The Connection Between Creativity And Mental Health
For years, scientists studied the effects of creativity on mental illnesses. Many artists were considered to be suffering from various mental disorders, and a study done at Swedish Institutions like Gothenburg University as well as Uppsaala University found that artists were more at risk for Bipolar Disorder. This study was funded by Swedish Psychiatry Foundation as well as Swedish Medical Research Foundation.
However, today many other research studies conducted across the globe believe quite the opposite. While it may be true that artists, most commonly writers, are more susceptible to bipolar disorder, ‘creativity’ is a source for inspiration and an improved sense of well-being for most ordinary people. Creativity provides a medium for outlet of emotions, and is also a great source of happiness in many people. Yes, mental health can affect creativity and bring out the best in an artist, but it’s also true that creativity can affect mental health.
“Creativity is a great motivator because it makes people interested in what they are doing. Creativity gives hope that there can be a worthwhile idea. Creativity gives the possibility of some sort of achievement to everyone. Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting” – Edward de Bono
Engagement in everyday forms of creativity– expressions of originality and meaningfulness in daily life– certainly do not require suffering. Quite the contrary, scientists have found that people who engaged in everyday forms of creativity – such as making a collage, taking photographs, or publishing in a literary magazine, tended to be more open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by their activity. Those scoring high in everyday creativity also reported feeling a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to their classmates who engaged less in everyday creative behaviors. ‘Creating’ can also be therapeutic for those who are already suffering. For instance, research shows that expressive writing increases immune system functioning, and the emerging field of post-traumatic growth is showing how people can turn adversity into creative growth.
In ‘Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being’ a book written by Martin Seligman who is considered to be an expert on ‘positive psychology’, he explains that psychological well-being is based on 5 elements. These are:
– Positive emotion
– Positive relationships
Creativity accomplishes all of these, which is why, being creative can make a person feel proud about themselves and have a deeper connection with one’s inner-self as well as the community. With an improved sense of self worth comes mental stability and satisfaction, both of which are important for enhanced mental health.
Tips to Improve Mental Health With Creative Exercises
Since creativity is good for mental health, here are some tips to incorporate creative exercises in one’s day to day life.
1. Enroll in a creative class. Whether you enjoy art, music, dancing, writing, poetry or some other form of creative activity, join a local class where you can hone on your skills and get to meet like-minded people.
2. Keep aside a set time for creative activities every week. Create a ‘creative corner’ in your home and enjoy doing the activities that bring you most happiness. Start with 2-3 hours a week, and increase the time as you begin to see positive changes in your psychological wellbeing.
3. Customize something old or create something new from scratch. Sometimes, creativity is inspired by emotions, sometimes by necessity. Spending a few hours pursuing a creative activity, be it customizing a tank top or re-adorning an old bag for a new facelift, will help you calm down and feel more relaxed while at the same time helping you use your time productively.
4. To boost your creativity, come up with quick exercises and activities. If you are a writer, try to convert a comedy in to a drama. If you are a musician, try to merge the best parts of two or three of your favorite tunes and create a new one. If you are an artist, list two of your favorite art forms and try to do a piece where the best features from both can be highlighted. Based on your creative interests, keep yourself challenged and engaged by coming up with new ideas.
Creativity comes with many benefits for improved mental health, some of which include: safe outlet for emotions and unexpressed feelings, improved concentration and focus, stress relief, confidence boost, enhanced manual dexterity and connecting with other creative members of the society.
“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” – Albert Einstein
So get creative, and find the perfect outlet for your emotions and thoughts!