During the pandemic, many people took up creative hobbies to keep themselves busy and distracted from the 24-hour news cycle that filled our screens. But was it just a fluke that so many people chose the arts as an outlet for stress relief? Definitely not! Research shows that doing art is an effective way to reduce stress, increase focus, and improve self-esteem. Whether it’s painting, dancing, writing, or music, art in all of its forms can benefit your mental health.

messy paint

Image by Dragos Gontariu, Unsplash; Alt-text: A child’s hand covered in paint hovers over a piece of paper that is filled with blue, orange and hot pink fingerpaint.

When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I will often grab one of my many markers or pens, open my sketchbook and begin to draw. I try not to think too hard about what I am creating, but rather I focus on the process. I pick colours based on what I’m feeling as opposed to planning ahead. I don’t get too upset if the shapes or lines don’t turn out perfectly. I use different art-making tools depending on what is available to me. Sometimes, I’ll use prompts from the internet to help guide my art piece, while other times I’ll just start creating and see what happens. I’ve always enjoyed making art and find that creatively expressing my thoughts on paper helps me to better understand my emotions. Have you ever felt the same way? Maybe it’s not visual art that you turn to, but rather music, dance, or creative writing. Whatever your medium of choice may be, art in any form can be a great way to improve your mental health. 

But I’m not an artist…

You don’t have to consider yourself an artist to benefit from making art. One of the foundational understandings behind Art Therapy is that it’s all about the PROCESS. By focusing on the meaning behind an art piece and the actions you are taking to create it, you are engaging in self-discovery. Art provides us with the opportunity to see things from a new perspective and live in the moment. An important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter what the final product looks or sounds like. You do not need to share your art with anyone else if you don’t want to. This art is all for you! The sooner you stop comparing your work to that of other people, the sooner you’ll be able to find peace and joy in the process. 

Art reduces stress and makes you happier 

Engaging in creative activities has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a chemical in your body that is released in response to stress. People who experience emotional trauma or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can use art to release emotions, express pain and reduce stress. Other studies show that creating art also increases dopamine levels. Sometimes called the “happiness hormone”, dopamine is a chemical in your body that is released when you experience something pleasurable. High levels of dopamine can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Dopamine is also part of your brain’s reward pathway, meaning that when you experience something pleasurable, you will seek out more opportunities to repeat that experience. If you enjoyed making art once, you will want to keep doing it again in the future!

Social benefits of art 

Another benefit of art is its social impact. Whether you are making art with a group of people or sharing the work that you have created with others, art facilitates social connections. A study about loneliness in the United Kingdom found that many people (82% of participants) perceived their arts engagement to be linked with feelings of social connectedness, thereby reducing loneliness. Art provides opportunities to meet new people who share a common interest and can be a great way to learn from others.

In summary, art in any form can be a great way to improve your mental health by reducing stress, increasing happiness, fostering social connections and promoting self-discovery. It doesn’t matter whether or not you consider yourself an artist; expressing yourself creatively can be good for your health. So what are you waiting for? Let’s make some art!