Culture February 14, 2017
You’ve finally escaped work after a hectic Monday full of meetings and projects — and, of course, you hit traffic right away. By the time you finally walk into your apartment, you know exactly what you want to do: nothing. So, like usual, you end the day with a pizza dinner and watching hours of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix … and, like usual, when you go to bed, you feel like you’ve wasted part of your day.
What’s a girl to do when she wants to relax but also feel productive? You might want to get in touch with your inner Andy Warhol, whether with the help of a college course, a private business or even a licensed art therapist. To find out exactly how many benefits can come with making art, ENTITY recently talked with Justin Davis, an art therapist working with drawchange (an Atlanta-based nonprofit that provides art therapy programs to children in homeless shelters), and Jenna Hartom, a creative arts therapist who works with psychiatric patients at the Montefiore Medical Center (one of the top ranked medical centers in the US).
Whether you’re interested in painting or pottery, here are five expert-backed reasons every working woman should get artsy ASAP!
Whether you’re chasing a promotion or just starting your first job, working can be stressful. Sometimes we’re so busy at work that we don’t even notice how stressed we feel. How can you keep your sanity while keeping a paycheck? Let your mind wander from work by picking up a paintbrush! According to Justin Davis, “When we make art and express whatever it is that’s inside us, it is cathartic. The kinesthetic and oftentimes repetitive motions involved in painting, drawing, sculpting, even zentangling and doodling, can be a self soothing act that calms the mind.”
Recent research supports Davis’s claim: one 2014 study on college students found that participants given pre-drawn patterns to color experienced a significant reduction in depression, tension and anxiety. But more than just adult coloring books can reduce stress. A study published just last year found that, no matter your level of artistic skill or what kind of visual art you do, making art for 45 minutes drastically lessens your body’s stress levels.
All of this goes to say that a coloring pencil might be the secret weapon you’ve been looking for to go from feeling stressed to blessed. And you thought you doodled in calculus class just because you were bored!
As many of you have probably realized, the work at most 9-to-5 jobs isn’t actually restricted to those hours. Instead, you often bring problems from work – for example, uncertainty about a slogan on a new ad campaign or worries about conflicts with a co-worker – home with you.
As ironic as it sounds, taking time off thinking by enjoying an art project may actually help you solve the problem. While more research needs to be done, one 2010 study observed students from six schools for two years and found that those who made art excelled in three areas of problem-solving skills when given 15 minutes to design their own chair. Art has also been shown to make your brain work in ways that it typically doesn’t. When you make art, your brain also works in ways that it typically doesn’t. After all, unless you work at a paint store, you probably aren’t usually wondering if teal complements or clashes with magenta!
Besides giving you different perspectives on your work problems, art can also help you with personal issues. For example, Jenna Hartom has seen how making art can help adults with illnesses like severe depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. “Although everyone is different, most of the time I see that art making becomes a common lens through which people discover and share what they are going through,” she says. “Through art making, [people] work through feelings and learn ways to cope.”
Whether you’re struggling to find unique solutions to work problems, cope with mental health issues or heal emotional wounds, art can open up your mind to new possibilities and perspectives.
Have you ever looked at a piece of art and been hit by a wave of emotion? Maybe, like with the Mona Lisa, curiosity overwhelmed you. Or maybe the sight of Edward Munch’s “The Scream” immediately made your stomach start doing backflips. Either way, art has the power to emotionally affect its viewers – and, by the same token, artists can reveal their own emotions on canvas. Whether you’re feeling ecstatic over a promotion, anxious about an upcoming presentation or frustrated at the co-worker who keeps stealing your packed lunch, you can explore those feelings through artwork.
Sometimes art may even be the only way you can get in touch with your feelings. “People who have been through difficult experiences may not always be able to verbally express what has happened to them or they may just have trouble identifying how they are feeling about it,” says Davis. “Art acts as a vehicle to communicate those feelings even when we don’t have the words; especially when we don’t have the words.”
Art can also help you understand yourself better, according to Hartom. “Anyone who is open to the experience of creating can learn more about themselves through this process,” she says. “Our emotional selves are complicated, so accessing emotions through art making can shed light on areas that we may not be aware of.”
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Wear your heart on your sleeve.” Well, these benefits seem to suggest that you should wear your heart on your artwork instead.
Once you’ve created your own art, you end up with two amazing things. On a physical level, you have a new “masterpiece.” You can frame it, sell it or give it to someone. At the same time, though, you also receive the artist experience. What that involves can vary from person to person, but Davis shares that art benefits can range from people with depression finding “relief and mood improvement” to previously lonely people finding “increased self esteem and making connections with other people in a group setting.” Art can even be a healthy way for you to express anger.
In fact, studies have found that taking part in artistic activities can put people in a “flow” that lets them regulate strong emotions or tamper irrational thoughts. Basically, art is one free (and much more fun) form of anti-anxiety medicine. Doing crafts like knitting has also been shown increase the amount of dopamine released by the brain, which boosts happiness. In one study, 81 percent of participants with depression reported feeling happier after knitting. You don’t have to toil over your work for hours to enjoy some of these benefits, either. A study performed last year found that, after just 45 minutes, 73 percent of participants showed an increase in feelings of self-efficacy.
The best part? Feeling more positive and confident in yourself and your skills will only help you kick butt in all areas of life – at home or in the office.
Maybe you’re reading this article and nodding your head, but you know you’ll never try making your own artwork because you’re “not an artist.” However, Hartom says, “We all have innate creativity and sometimes it is just a matter of suspending judgment in order to open that door.”
Davis agrees, comparing starting to make art to starting yoga. “The first time you went, you probably felt mixed emotions: ‘This felt good. This felt uncomfortable. I can’t do all the poses. I’m not any good at this. I feel ridiculous.’ But as you stick with it, you get better at the poses, your body begins to feel better, and you probably feel a lot more relaxed. You have to stick with [art] to really get the most out of it.”
READ MORE: What Makes People Stick With Yoga?
And, truthfully, you have two possible end results if you try adding art to your routine: falling in love with art and embracing it as your new favorite hobby…or leaving it for another creative outlet. Finding new interests and ways to spend your time helps keep life interesting. And, even if art isn’t your thang, you’ll probably learn a few new facts about yourself along the way. And the better you know yourself, the better you know how to chase your dreams and meet your goals.
The power to lower your stress, increase your creativity and boost your self esteem is (literally) in your hands. You just need to make the choice to explore your artistic side, whether you’re a natural artist or an accomplished business women.
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