All creative interests have the same driving force behind them: a vital need to make sense of the world around us.
Through writing, painting, sculpting or any number of other disciplines, we attempt to face our fears. They can be modest and unique to us, or they can be universal fears which affect us all equally. That is the difference between the fear of spiders and the fear of death. One could argue that the former can be managed and even transcended, while the latter constitutes an inevitable feature of being a living human being and, therefore, it’s much harder to cope with.
No matter the magnitude of your fears, research shows quite definitely that engaging in creativity allows you to better mitigate the effects of that fear. It helps you process the pain and anxiety in ways that no other activity can achieve.
It follows that, despite not being a panacea, creativity is quite a useful tool to have in your arsenal of coping mechanisms. It is accessible to everyone in one way or another and requires little effort and expense.
Creativity as a coping strategy requires one important thing: honesty. Truth is its currency and no amount of creativity will yield therapeutic results if it is approached from a place of falsehood and deceit. After all, you can only lie to yourself for so long before your mental health starts unraveling.
What is the best way to move toward creativity in a practical manner? Start small. A mere fifteen to twenty minutes a day is all you need. In that amount of time you can make origami, sketch an object in your home, write a haiku, compose a letter, knit a little or make a small collage. All of it is beneficial to your well-being.
So much so, that studies indicate that being creative strengthens your immune system and helps manage pain and inflammation. In addition, there are documented benefits in the treatment of depression, PTSD and other mood disorders through creativity. I can appreciate the importance of these discoveries now that we are faced with inordinate amounts of changes and unprecedented threats. Creativity has become a necessity and a daily requirement for good mental health.
The mechanism by which creativity can protect the brain is complicated. Being creative implies curiosity and the capacity for self-reflection. The first step is to identify a problem by naming it. Once identified, your brain wants to make sense of the problem in front of you. Through our chosen creative discipline, we use a language (written words, painted images, sculpted objects) to organize our thoughts and find meaning. Your brain prioritizes finding solutions to the most bothersome parts of your issue. In time, you can explore more deeply and come to terms with all the facets of the problem at hand. That would be, in a nutshell, how the brain utilizes creativity to assuage stress and anxiety and keep itself healthy.
Creativity is not magic. It will not fix all your problems or alter the course of the pandemic, but it can help you navigate a number of tricky situations much more successfully.
The alternative approach, that of avoidance and denial, only grows the trepidation and worry. Once we fall into a never-ending loop of worry and rumination, it is very hard not to escalate into a state of despair. Confronting a problem creatively, cools down the activity in the brain and it helps regulate a response appropriate to the situation.
For all the above mentioned reasons, I appeal to everyone facing loneliness, fear or anxiety to set aside a few minutes each day to practice creativity and show your brain a little self-love.