Creativity and our mental health
January 16, 2023
According to American Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1977), creativity is ‘an act of the whole person’, and in creative moments that person is ‘most integrated’.
Creativity can help us find a way back to ourselves when we are lost. Sometimes we get lost in our heads, in the stories we tell ourselves, or the messages we have been told about who we are. These can go round in our minds and create low moods or anxiety.
Creativity provides a sanctuary where these thoughts can be quietened for a while, allowing wisdom to emerge from the other parts of ourselves which we do not usually listen to. It can be a key that unlocks our own personal treasure; it has been described as a door to the unconscious. When cultivated, creativity can become a friend that accompanies us through the unpredictable and challenging terrain of life.
Creativity is for Everyone
Creativity is not just for artists, writers, musicians, or performers. Creativity is human, not for the chosen few. There are so many ways for us to express ourselves, from gardening and poetry, to film-making, cooking, interior design, kite-making, writing novels, skateboarding … the list is endless. We can go through phases too and we don’t necessarily have to be good at it, so long as it’s enjoyable. We can try our hands at anything that calls to us! We might need to turn down the volume of the critic in our heads which often causes fear, and prevent us from even starting.
Creativity and the Brain
In the West creativity is undervalued. We are taught to live from our rational selves, using the parts of our brain connected with reasoning and language. This kind of knowledge tends to be linear, logical and often measurable. It dominates our culture and is often regarded the as the superior way to solve problems. However, many of our geniuses made discoveries through a playful attitude as it opens up many more functions of the brain. Einstein said that “Creativity is intelligence having fun”.
Other parts of our brain (generally thought to be located in the right hemisphere) are more concerned with emotions and intuition. When we are creative, the right-hand side becomes more active; it becomes possible for a person to allow unconscious material to arise without the rational mind interfering. This means that we can access a different kind of ‘knowing’ which is equally valid and may take us by surprise. It can be beautiful and profound.
The Benefits of Creative Activity
- We can find enjoyment and a sense of well-being
- When we are absorbed in a creative activity, we can often leave the constant chatter that is in our heads behind for a while, giving us some respite
- We can engage in a community project and find connection by collaborating with others
- We can find nourishment and joy in the process of ‘playing’
- It doesn’t necessarily cost money!
- We can develop new skills
- We can explore our own feelings (which may be difficult or confusing) and express them so that those feelings are no longer held inside our bodies
- We can develop greater mental flexibility and become more inventive. Our thinking becomes less rigid
- We can find a sense of pride in what we produce
Those who attend my therapeutic practice often have no words to express their emotions or experiences. Sometimes trauma happens before we have access to words. We may feel distressed but cannot name the reason. Feelings may be incomprehensible or just too painful. By using a creative activity such as art or imaginative writing, (or play, for younger clients), an image or metaphor may emerge which allows authentic communication. Because the material is uncensored by the rational mind it does not lie and often holds great wisdom.
There are many kinds of creative therapy. For example, art therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, therapeutic writing, Gestalt therapy, sand tray work, dance therapy … Some therapists specialise in one particular approach and others may use a variety of creative interventions.
Even if therapy is not what you are looking for at the moment, your creativity is always on tap. It’s a rich resource and it doesn’t cost anything!
To get started you may like to look at Julia Cameron’s book - The Artist’s Way. She has lots of suggestions which only take a small amount of time.
Book: Help! I've Got an Alarm Bell Going Off in My Head!
This little gem by the author is suitable for anyone who struggles with anxiety, especially children and teens. Using cartoons and accessible language, it explains what happens in the nervous system when we experience strong, difficult- to-manage reactions.