Plenty of us made the mistake of not taking mental health too seriously until we faced difficulties ourselves. Regardless of being aware and sensitive towards mental health problems, I’m guilty of not taking it too seriously for myself.
In the lockdown of 2020, some of these issues peaked for me, making it necessary to approach a therapist for help. At around the same time, I managed to get some of my art materials home with me from my studio and started painting aimlessly but expressively. My painting and my therapy were taking place simultaneously and it was not until my therapist pointed out that I realised the help I received from my practice in painting to improve my mental health. And I continue to paint till date, not only because its my profession, but also because it helps me manage my stress, my anger and my emotions.
Art and psychological wellbeing have been linked since many years and there are plenty research studies that evidence the same. Art therapy, as a practice, is even used to aid with trauma, anxiety, severe illness and more. At a generic level, you can also experience the benefits of art therapy without having to see a therapist. However, should you find yourself in a situation of extreme discomfort, pain or struggle, it is advisable to approach a professional therapist.
The reason I believe painting worked for me as a form of therapy is because painting is a language of its own. It allowed me to express things that words could not, it allowed me to release energy like no other activity could. Similarly, working with collage, drawing, doodling, pottery, clay modelling etc. can have similar effects in you. And plenty of these activities are ones that you can do from the comfort of your home too. However, I always recommend giving yourself a change in environment. But scientifically, how does this really work?
Engaging in art is capable of reducing stress, managing anxiety levels, activating reward systems within you and even aid in improving your moods. Numerous studies have shown the impact of engaging in art in improving brain connectivity and activating the prefrontal cortex – where the reward system lies. Viewing or doing art increases the blood flow in the prefrontal cortex and activates the reward circuits in our system, making us feel better.
Similarly, engaging in activities such as mandala making or any other structured colouring activity can reduce your anxiety levels. A study done in 2011 suggested that engaging in such structured or geometric activities induced a meditative state in participants, lowering the anxiety levels as a result.
Plenty of us experience high-levels of stress. A stress inducing hormone called Cortisol is another element in our system that can be controlled by engaging with art or art activities. Studies have shown that activities like expressive writing, expressive art or even music are capable of controlling our cortisol levels that induce stress. These activities can help you avoid thinking about matters that stress you and also prevent you from thinking about sickness, thereby improving overall health or even improving self-identity, as mentioned in this study by G. Kaimal, K. Ray and J. Muniz.
I am neither a therapist nor a have I pursued art therapy as my education. I became sensitised towards the practice of art therapy when I experienced the benefits on myself – even though I engaged with it myself for the most part. If your stress, anxiety or mood has been unusual lately, I recommend that you engage yourself in some small activities to begin with. Allow yourself to evidence the effects and then benefits of art on your health or mental health and proceed further. There are plenty of artists, designers, craftsmen and women, art academies, and institutions that offer such activities in forms of workshops or courses. Push yourself to enrol in one that interests you and let art do its thing to help you get better, be better.