How creativity can boost your mental health

In the last two years, an already brewing mental health crisis in the UK has been compounded by the pandemic. 

In a survey of 6,305 people by BACP and YouGov, shared exclusively with earlier this year, 48% of people who hadn’t experienced mental health issues in the past five years said their mental health had suffered due to the pandemic. 

For those who had experienced mental health issues prior to the pandemic, that number was 85%.  

More recently, with life creeping back to normal, cases of burnout have risen drastically. 

By now, we’re all aware of the countless self-care platitudes like taking a walk, developing a routine and looking after our bodies, which do work – but it can sometimes feel like the effort we put in doesn’t reap the same rewards. 

So why not get creative?

How creativity can boost mental health 

According to occupational therapist and wellness expert Jenny Okolo, getting creative – be it by painting, singing or playing games – is known to relieve both stress and anxiety. 

‘This is because creativity alters our brain chemistry and can boost our physical and mental health,’ Jennytells  

‘Neurological studies have shown that engaging in purposeful, creative and meaningful activities can act as a natural antidepressant by improving mood.  

‘The area of the brain involved in integrating emotions and motivation is the amygdala and is fuelled when we are engaged in such activities.’ 

She adds that repetitive creative activities in particular, such as painting, are scientifically known to boost health and wellbeing. 

Creativity can be a great vehicle for letting out our inner thoughts, feelings and emotions, which is why it can be great to pick up a pen or dance to some music when we feel trapped inside our own minds. 

‘Emotions can have severe physical, mental, and emotional impacts if they are left unexpressed or unreleased,’ says Laura Toop, a grief and life coach. 

‘It is widely documented that, when in a heightened ‘fight or flight’ mode, the stress hormone, cortisol, is activated, which can impair brain function, cause brain cells to die or even reduce brain capacity. 

‘In these moments, you need to release or express some of your emotions in order to make space for processing new ones and prevent your mind and body becoming completely overwhelmed and unable to function fully.’ 

How to add creativity into your daily life 

It’s important to remember that being creative doesn’t come naturally to everybody, so we need to be aware of when we’re exerting too much. 

‘At times, when a lot of effort is being put into “being creative” it can often have adverse effects and lead to burnout in the same way a job might do,’ says Okolo. ‘Our brain is almost always on high alert waiting for the next fire to be put out, so it makes it difficult to consistently carve our safe spaces for creativity, especially when it’s not something you’re used to.’ 

She adds: ‘As with anything in life, it’s important to be conscious of having a balance as not to overwhelm yourself with something that should be experienced as having fun.’ 

Toop echoes this: ‘Finding the time to pick up a paintbrush or a camera can be hard daily. 

‘What is key, is your emotions are expressed or released in whatever way makes sense to you, through whatever medium feels comfortable to you.  

‘Your output is about the emotional release it is giving you not the quality of the output, and after all, it need be for your eyes only.  

‘A quick photo on your phone, as you head into work, capturing a moment with which you had an emotional connection with, can be sufficient, it need not be a masterpiece.’ 

Creative activities to boost your mental health

There are countless ways to get creative, even just for 10 minutes.  

Okolo and Toop recommend these activties: 

  • Playing a sport 
  • Brain-training games 
  • Cooking 
  • Singing 
  • Dancing 
  • Gardening 
  • Photography  
  • Painting 
  • Drawing 
  • Writing 

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