The health benefits of observing and creating art

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most beloved, extraordinary artists of all time. It is also well known he suffered from mental illness. He created some of his most famous and widely recognizable paintings while convalescing at an asylum, into which he voluntarily admitted himself. He often wrote to his brother of the calm, focused feelings he experienced when painting.

As noted in Vincent’s letters, creative expression is a powerful tool for well-being.  

The nonprofit group Resources to Recover defines art therapy as the application of art to treat mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, dementia, and PTSD. It can be used in conjunction with traditional mental health therapy to manage behaviors and reduce stress.

A pilot study published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association demonstrated preliminary evidence that just 45 minutes of creative activity significantly reduces stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent. Nearly 75% of the study participants had lower levels of salivary cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after the art making session.

All arts and crafts hobbies seem to have the power to positively affect the brain in a fashion similar to meditation. An online survey conducted with members of a virtual knitting community about  the benefits of knitting on their personal and social well-being published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy.

Observing visual art can also reduce stress and anxiety for patients in hospitals and doctors’ offices. A study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being concluded, “Art contributes to creating an environment and atmosphere where patients can feel safe, socialize, maintain a connection to the world outside the hospital and support their identity.”

Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the works of others or create your own, take advantage of healing power of art on the mind and body. 

Anxiety: the causes, triggers and myths

Anxiety can be a normal part of life. It’s the body’s defense mechanism, keeping us out of danger and preparing us for necessary action.

For many people, however, anxiety can become overwhelming. It disrupts their daily lives and even makes routine activities impossible. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates 264 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders often have intense and persistent worries and fears, which result in panic attacks.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can begin occurring in childhood and are sometimes the result of treatable medical conditions. Some examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, specific phobias and separation anxiety. 

What causes anxiety disorders?

Experts have not discovered the exact cause of anxiety disorders. However, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, believe brain chemistry, along with genetic and environmental factors may play a role. 

People with depression, irritable bowel syndrome, or a history of substance abuse have a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Other factors that can increase your risk include stress, genetics, personality type, severe trauma and gender. 

Putting together a full picture of your wellness that includes other health conditions, family history and environmental exposure can help you better understand the cause of your anxiety and may help your doctor or therapist treat you more effectively. 

Anxiety triggers

Because anxiety has different effects on different individuals, triggers may be difficult to identify. Sometimes, environmental factors, such as location, sounds, and smells may trigger anxiety, especially in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some common anxiety triggers include:

  • Health issues and certain medications
  • Social or public events
  • Stress and relationship conflicts
  • Financial matters

Myths and misconceptions

If you or someone you love lives with an anxiety disorder, you may not be able to discern between trustworthy information and misinformation. 
Visit the ADAA website for valuable information like their Myth vs. Reality infographic, as well as links to other informational websites.