This has been in my drafts since November 18th. I started writing it after I published my poetry book but for some reason I couldn’t finish it until today.
The healing power of art
If you’ve been here for a while, you probably have read my posts about how I struggled the past few months with meeting a certain someone. And I’ve had a really hard time accepting it. In general, I always turn to art when I feel (mentally) unwell; I like painting, and drawing, and writing (obviously! 😅)… I mean, I am a dreamy Pisces after all. 🙃 But, on this occasion, nothing seemed to be working. I tried colouring, painting, journaling but nothing made me feel better. In fact, I got annoyed, because nothing I made felt good enough and it left me feeling uninspired.
Until one week last October, when this certain someone kept appearing in my way over and over – call it synchronicity if you may, I do think he’s my twin flame. And it really, really upset me, I was crying every day. And, out of nowhere, I started writing poems on my iPhone notes app. I kept writing how I felt and what I wanted to say to him but couldn’t and, amazingly, it made me feel so much better. For the first time in months, it felt like the weight on my chest had lifted a bit, and I could breathe again. I felt a sense of peace and serenity.
And this made me think -and that’s where this blog post comes in- about art therapy and the healing power of art. Funnily enough, just this morning, I was reading on Apple News an article about how the NHS will start offering art classes instead of prescription drugs.
I won’t go too deep on that in this post, I have my own opinions and experiences -both as a patient and as a healthcare professional- on antidepressants and the NHS, but what I will say (and what I thought when I read it) is, it’s about fucking time. About fucking time we acknowledged how art can heal the brain.
How does art help with emotions?
How does art heal the world? Can art heal people? Is it true that engaging in a creative activity – even if you don’t identify as a “creative person” – can help alleviate or even prevent mental health disorders? What is art therapy? All these are questions I asked myself after I realised how powerfully healing writing poetry turned out to be. I mean, it’s not a secret that depressed people are good at art. And it’s not like I didn’t already know the benefits of art on mental health.
This Psychology Today article supports the idea that even looking at art can be healing. This is, in fact, the theory behind colouring and colour therapy; looking at different colours can elicit different emotions and help with anxiety. For example, looking at the colour green can improve your mood, which is why a walk in nature greatly helps when you’re feeling sad. Similarly, looking at the colour blue gives a signal to your brain of a sense of safety, which is why healthcare professionals usually wear blue scrubs.
The same article mentions how many artists find making art therapeutic and calming; it helps calm the distracting, negative, and unhelpful thoughts, and it gets your hands and body working, as opposed to only your mind.
How does art heal trauma and depression?
There is this misconception that healing through art activity is only possible when you are an “artist”. Much like I mentioned above when I was painting and journaling, I didn’t like anything I made and I felt art was not helping me. However, this post about art and grief made a very good point; the goal is not to make great art, but to express yourself greatly. I mean, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Yes, I published my poems and turned them into a poetry book, but even if I hadn’t, they still benefitted me greatly. I still read them when I feel sad and frustrated about this situation and they really do help. This comes back to the point above of how even looking at art or reading poems can help you heal. And, in fact, that is the very reason I decided to publish my poems; in hopes that someone in a similar situation can benefit from the healing power of poetry.
If we look at this from a professional point of view, and explore depression and art therapy, we’ll find that art therapy provides an individual who is feeling pressured or overwhelmed with an opportunity to slow down and explore the issues that are occurring in their life. It provides them with a way to manage their behaviour, reduce anxiety, process feelings, and destress.
The benefits of art on mental health
Since creativity can be healing, people with mood disorders may instinctively turn to art to help themselves cope or heal. There is increasing evidence in rehabilitation medicine and the field of neuroscience that art enhances brain function by impacting brain wave patterns, emotions, and the nervous system. Art can also raise serotonin levels and studies show that creating art stimulates the release of dopamine, a hormone released when we do something pleasurable, and makes us feel happier.
Making art as a form of mental health treatment dates back to the mid-20th century, when soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War II were left with a condition that was known as “shell shock,” but is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans painted, drew, sculpted and made other forms of art to help process what they’d witnessed and experienced at war. “They struggled with traditional forms of medical and therapeutical intervention,” says Girija Kaimal, an art therapist at Drexel University and the president of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). “Experiences like trauma are very difficult to articulate into words, so therapies that can support and connect patients with nonverbal expression are really the foundation of the creative arts therapies.”
Personally, this is exactly how I feel about traditional talking therapies. Some people do benefit from talking about their problems and “letting it out”, but this has never really worked for me. Also, sometimes feelings can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to try and express them with words but much easier to let them out with colours and clay. And like other forms of therapy, art is also a safer, healthier way to channel stress and other negative emotions into action compared to destructive or harmful choices.
Health benefits of art in conclusion
To conclude, making art is not some magic way to overcome your problems and what’s troubling you and keeping you awake at night. It can, however, help express these heavy feelings and even make it a bit easier to recognise them and face them.
There are a lot of free resources you can use to reap the mental health benefits of art, and I, particularly, like an app called Lake (not sponsored) which is free to use, with an option to upgrade, and lets you use colouring as a form of meditation. Of course, you can always use traditional pen and paper colouring books or the old brushes and canvas. Or, like in my case, simply your phone to write down how you feel.
You know, I always look back at this video I once saw of Matthew McConaughey, where basically he says that it doesn’t matter what you do when you journal; it doesn’t even have to be words. It can be doodling, or drawing, or actually keeping a diary. The goal is to find a way to express your feelings, so you don’t end up with all these bottled up emotions that will inevitably end up in an outburst one day.
I hope this post helped you gain some insight into how you can use art to heal your brain and soul.
If you’d like to read more about art and mental health, I recommend reading the book “Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul“.
*featured image by Lisa Fotios