April 23rd, 2020 BY Jennifer Davis
Rumor has it that William Shakespeare, perhaps the most well-known name in English literature, used his time in quarantine to write some of his most famous plays, including King Lear and Macbeth. Elizabethans battled plenty of plague outbreaks during the late 1500s and early 1600s. Like the world right now, the world of the Bard would have been stuck on “pause” — not quite sure how to proceed without risking infection, or worse.
Turns out, it might be true that Shakespeare penned King Lear while self-isolating.
And while that might be an intimidating thought while you struggle to just function during the pandemic, there’s no need to worry. You don’t need to write a breathtaking monologue or pen the next great American novel — you don’t even need to write, if that’s not your thing.
But creativity in any form might help you, quarantine or not.
Creative activities can boost your mind, body and spirit. Whether it’s painting self-portraits, playing the flute or writing your own version of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, channeling your creative energy into something tangible offers a bevy of health benefits.
You don’t have to be an artist. You just have to be willing to try.
Not convinced? Check out these positive health benefits of being creative.
Mind & Spirit
If you’ve ever let your mind wander while doing the dishes, then you know how therapeutic repetitive tasks can be. Performing simple tasks over and over lets your mind off the hook. And that’s important because the mind can get pretty cluttered.
On average, people have around 60,000 thoughts every single day.
Activities like coloring, icing cookies, stitching by hand and other tangible creative tasks can take the weight off a troubled mind. Plus, being creative can lift your mood, give you a sense of accomplishment and help you recover from past trauma.
For people who have experienced trauma, writing about the experience can help them process events more fully — as can painting or sculpting. Art also gives people a way to express feelings without the limitations of words.
In fact, research supports the use of creativity in mental health therapy. Creativity can:
- Reduce stress
- Decrease depression symptoms
- Increase positive emotions
- Make you happier
Research also suggests that the long-term benefits of creativity outweigh the short-term negative side effects. In other words, people might feel a rush of negative emotion after journaling about trauma, for example. But over time, positive feelings take over as people learn how to process and move forward with their lives.
And creativity doesn’t just help with negative emotions. Other studies have found that people who write about positive experiences get a boost, too.
Painting, dancing, sewing, singing — and any number of other creative activities — all create a flood of dopamine. This feel-good chemical makes you happy, so you crave more of it. In this case, it’s a positive cycle of creating to feel good and feeling good while you create. (And it works.)
The mind is a terrible thing to waste — but so is the body. Luckily, creativity can help with that, too.
Creativity comes in different packages. If art isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps a little expressive movement might be more your style? Aka dancing. Whether it’s an exercise routine like Zumba or a freestyle party in your living room, dancing makes your mind and body happy at the same time.
Fear not, though, if dancing makes you nervous.
Being creative can boost your physical health even if it’s not giving you a workout. That’s because channeling your creative self may:
- Lower your stress
- Make you smarter
- Give your immune system a lift
- Lower the risk of dementia
Activities like crafting can help calm your mind, which may lower your stress as effectively as meditation. Studies involving music suggest that playing an instrument strengthens the connections between the left and right hemispheres of your brain. Stronger connections make a sharper mind.
One randomized trial of people with HIV found that people who used expressive writing as part of therapy increased their CD4+ lymphocyte count — meaning they gave their immune systems a boost just by writing about their experiences.
And in older adults, regular creative activities may help to ward off dementia. Different studies have found that older adults who do playacting or create things have sharper recall. Engaging your mind via art (and creativity) could delay cognitive decline in old age.
Get Comfy (or Not)
If the idea of drawing or writing or dancing gives you the willies, don’t panic. You don’t have to attempt a new form of art or learn an instrument to channel your inner creativity. Choose activities that you find soothing and/or rewarding. Creativity doesn’t come in a box.
Don’t feel the need to spend a lot of time and money on a project, either. You won’t reap much of a mental health benefit if the activity stresses you out. Not a big music fan? Skip the guitar lessons.
That said, don’t be afraid to experiment or get a bit ambitious.
Try something that piques your interest, even if it seems silly or unlike you. The goal here isn’t to become a professional artist but to explore creative outlets that might help you cope with everyday life. But who knows? You might find a new skill or passion that leads to something else.
Point being? Stick with what you like, but branch out when you need to.
You don’t have to write the next big Broadway show or revolutionize modern landscaping. Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes. Find yours, and you’ll likely find more balance in life — pandemic or not.