Incorporating art into your life benefits the heart and mind

Art enjoys a long history as a therapeutic tool for your heart and mind. Painting, writing, music, theatre, dancing – there are many ways to express yourself with positive health benefits. It’s easy to get bogged down in your busy schedule and ignore this kind of self-care. But time to immerse yourself in artistic endeavors is important to your enjoyment of life and your health.

Here are some of the concrete health benefits of creative expression:

1. Improves memory

Research shows the power of art can increase memory and improve all-over cognitive functioning. A study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience shows that various forms of art such as drawing and theatre – when practiced regularly – create long-lasting neurocognitive growth.

Many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia are able to recall certain lost memories by hearing a song associated with a time in their life. Music therapy is a popular tool for people suffering with these conditions.

2. Creates empathy

On a basic level, we all understand that art creates empathy from the time we are very young. Reading Little Red Riding Hood, we all feel a sense of foreboding for the little girl in the woods – will she get home safely? This basic human response to art has received substantial academic attention and research.

A 2013 study from The New School concluded that reading fiction contributes significantly to empathy, or “theory of mind.” The knowledge that other people have complicated interior lives and feel the same things we do creates an empathetic response.

The book Cognitive Response and Human Rationality, by Keith Frankish, explains that art creates an empathic response both in the artist during creation and in those who experience the art. Frankish adds that we, the viewer, respond not only to the situation in the art, but also the way it is presented. For example, you might feel differently looking at a line drawing of a face versus an oil painting.

Art has the power to expose us to people quite different from ourselves, but who also share our essential human commonalties. In this way, art teaches us about empathy by teaching us about each other and ourselves.

art heart

3. Heals us mentally

The act of creating is powerful enough to help heal the effects of people’s mental health struggles.

In research compiled by Health Technology Assessment, art therapy was found most helpful for those with depression, anxiety, low mood, trauma, distress, inability to cope and low self-esteem. Patients experienced a lessening of their troubling symptoms and a greater sense of connection to their best self.

Many people use writing as a medium for healing in the forms of journaling, storytelling and song writing. For a person hurting and unable to change their situation, these forms of expression provide validity and release. And reading over words we’ve written about painful experiences can put those experiences into a new light, helping us heal.

For those who struggle to put their feelings into words, other artistic forms can assist them in expressing their experiences. Dancing, pottery, theatre and other forms of expression can be used to funnel difficult emotions.

4. Relieves stress

In the same way art provides relief from certain mental conditions, the act of creating and expression of your feelings can significantly reduce stress.

The Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association published a study called, “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making.” The study looked at art’s impact on stress indicators in the body. The data indicates that 45 minutes of creative activity significantly reduces physical stress indicators – specifically, cortisol levels (a stress hormone) significantly dropped.

Cortisol is damaging to body tissues when raised to high levels on a frequent or long-term basis. For those who experience chronic stress, art can be a powerful tool to reduce damage to the body.

In addition, the artists’ level of skill had no impact on the results. When it comes to the benefits of art, your level of expertise doesn’t matter. It’s simply the act of creating that brings benefits to your mind, body and heart.

Set yourself a regular time to center yourself and choose an a form of art that makes your heart sing. Try listening to “Wholeness” by Dr Joe Dispenza, a CD that inspires you to stay present while you create.

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