There are many arguments that support art as being just as important as any other subject taught in school. One is the benefits that it can have on mental health.
Art has been known to relieve stress, boost self-confidence, aid in communication and improve cognitive function. This article will review the important role art plays in mental health.
A Look at Neuro-esthetics
Anyone who has an artistic side has a firsthand experience with how art can eliminate stress and increase feelings of happiness. But they may not realize how art is affecting their brains.
A 2019 study looked specifically at mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT) that combines art therapy with heightened awareness techniques regarding ones thoughts and feelings. Biofeedback was used to determine the effects visual art has on the neural circuits and neuroendocrine markers in the brain. Measurements showed that stress and anxiety was reduced providing evidence that MBAT may be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders as well as general anxiousness. It can also reduce anxiety in people with serious medical conditions such as cancer.
A 2016 study also showed that creating art can reduce cortisol levels which are markers for stress. It involved 39 healthy adults who engaged in 45 minutes of art creation. Cortisol levels were measured via saliva samples before and after the activity. In addition to finding lower stress markers, participants also stated that they felt happier after the creative activity.
These studies are a part of mental health research called neuro-esthetics which uses brain imaging, brain wave technology and biofeedback to provide scientific evidence regarding how we react to the arts. It serves as scientific proof as to why we feel better after engaging our artistic abilities.
Art Encourages Mindfulness
Mindfulness is often integrated into mental health therapy. It encourages people to become more involved in the moment so they can appreciate what’s in front of them and forget about the stresses of the past and the future.
Art has the power to immerse us in the present, helping to focus on the activity in front of us and reducing stress factors from outside sources. And the more we engage in art-related activities, the better we become at shifting into a mindful state at other points in our lives. Doing so is effective in producing pleasurable states that are neurochemically rewarding.
To truly engage in a MBAT, artists must accept three strategies.
Don’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes: As an artist, it’s important to try new things without the fear of making mistakes. A fearful attitude can make the experience stressful defeating the point of the activity.
Use Reusable Materials: Reusable materials such a dry erase markers and Play-dough can easily be wiped away or reshaped. Using them takes the pressure off artists when it comes to making something perfect and permanent.
Limit Language: It is best not to talk when engaging in art. If you are listening to music, choose instrumental pieces. This allows you to give a break to the overworked parts of your brain responsible for speech generation and language processing..
How Art Can Help Mental Health
Here are a few ways art can help improve mental health.
Stress Relief: Art provides a distraction allowing your brain to take a break from the stresses of daily life. It puts you in a meditative state that helps you to put your worries aside.
Boosting Self Esteem: Creating art raises levels of dopamine, a “feel-good” neurotransmitter in the brain. It may help you to adopt a more optimistic outlook overall.
Increased Connectivity: When you engage in a complex activity, it encourages your brain to create new connections between brain cells. The ability to grow these connections and change and adapt is known as brain plasticity. Engaging in art can boost brain plasticity, which can increase psychological and emotional resilience, so you are more resistant to stress.
Increased Feelings of Love, Empathy, and Tolerance: A study of over 10,000 students showed that viewing art can increase feelings of empathy, love, and tolerance. Students who took a one-hour trip to the museum exhibited increased critical thinking skills as well as a deeper sense of empathy for various cultures. Brain scans reveal that the surge of dopamine released when viewing art can produce feelings that are similar to falling in love.
The ability of art to aid mental health should not be ignored. It relieves stress, promotes feelings of tolerance and self-confidence, and increases connectivity to make for emotional resilience and improved learning. What will you be doing to incorporate more artistic activities in your life?