Just about every toddler likes to pick up some crayons and express themselves in a coloring book or on a nearby wall. But somewhere along the way, art stops being an activity all the kids do, and it becomes something you leave to the real artists. But it really shouldn’t be.
If you left art to the professionals long ago, there is good reason to give it another go. Art can be healing, however you like to do it. From depression to chronic pain, here are five things art can help alleviate, which is especially important during these past difficult months.
People who live with depression might find some benefit in art therapy. Art has been shown to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. For example, one team of researchers studied the use of art therapy for patients with coronary artery disease. After participating in 12 sessions lasting for 45 minutes each, patients reported their depression had improved. Researchers found art therapy helped patients relax, reduced anger and aggression, and improved feelings of satisfaction.
Creating art can bring down your stress levels, whether you consider yourself a modern-day Monet or you are more comfortable with a medium like fingerpaint. One study measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol before and after creating art. Cortisol levels dropped in 75 percent of the participants, and their level of experience didn’t make any difference in the results.
Art therapy can be beneficial for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, including those who haven’t responded to other treatment options. Some people who have experienced trauma have difficulty talking about it, but art therapy offers an outlet for expressing feelings and memories without talking.
Art can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are common in people with dementia. It may also improve memory and focus in some patients with early dementia. Even viewing art, rather than creating it, may have some benefit. Researchers observed patients with Alzheimer’s disease who visited an art museum and found that their moods improved.
“Dementia can make it difficult for a person to communicate, which is often frustrating for them and caregivers,” says Rose Mary Cervantes, activities director at English Oaks Convalescent and Rehabilitation. “Creative activities, like an art project, give patients a way to express themselves and may even help them engage in conversations.”
Painting a picture most likely won’t make your headache go away or soothe a pulled muscle. But, it may help people manage chronic pain and its psychological effects. It can help patients focus on something other than their pain, and it can relax them.
Art isn’t a magic bullet for all that ails you, but it can complement treatments and provide added benefits where some therapies may not be working. So grab some clay, pick up a paintbrush, or make a collage and see what art can do for you.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.