Imagine entering a doctor’s office, and instead of getting a needle in your arm, you are handed two knitting needles and a ball of yarn. What if this doctor offered you a paint brush instead of a prescription, or a pair of dance shoes rather than drugs? According to art therapists, creativity of any kind can decrease depression, reduce anxiety, increase immune systems, and activate general well being.
When I was a child, I would listen to my grandmother sing in her kitchen in Ireland. “Sing yourself happy,” she would say as she bounced around her pantry baking scones. I don’t know if Granny was aware that, according to the experts, singing can help lower stress, boost immunity and lung function, enhance memory, improve mental health, and help you cope with physical and emotional pain. Perhaps she was an expert herself. She just knew singing made her feel better.
About four years ago, I was experiencing a debilitating depression. I had lost the desire to even get out of bed, let alone sing, which was my full-time profession. I had reached a place so dark, that I instinctively knew I had to create something in order to save myself. So I wrote and recorded a new album of songs. Each day showing up to the studio, collaborating with fellow musicians, feeling the vibrations of sound alter the cells in my body, I became transformed. My mental health eventually improved. My heart strings were on the mend with each lyric I wove into existence. This focused engagement with creativity has that power over me.
But you don’t have to be a professional artist to explore your untapped creative potential and begin to help yourself heal as well. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is creative. We are born creative. No talent is necessary. We just sometimes forget to access that sacred part of our souls.
When you immerse yourself in an activity that brings you joy, you are training the body and brain to shift their focus to the pleasure channel. For example, knitting has serious health benefits. The repetitive movements induce meditation, an activity that forces us to connect mind and body. And gifting a new sweater or mittens is just an added bonus.
Daily art making is vital to our mental health. It is a way to express thoughts and emotions when words fail. Whether you doodle while drawing in a notebook, or dance around your living room to music, it is necessary to incorporate this type of play in your day.
Take it to another level, if you really want to learn how to shift your focus and find that elusive calm. Sign up for an actual class. Make pottery, paint a landscape, or knit a hat, whatever you fancy. But approach it with a beginner’s mind and be patient with yourself. When I started taking painting workshops, I was astonished how focused I became as I made decisions about colors and brush strokes. My mind did not have space to think about my worries or fears as I attempted to paint Bob Ross-inspired “happy trees.” No yoga mat had ever brought me the sense of mindfulness that an empty canvas gave me. And in the end of a two hour session, my self worth had improved because I felt a sense of accomplishment.
So if you are looking for some alternative ways to heal yourself during these uncertain and stressful times, visit a craft store and pick up a paint brush or a knitting needle. Or sing yourself happy, as my granny used to say.