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Make Art, Stress Less

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Make Art, Stress Less

If you’ve ever viewed a colorful painting and smiled, or felt somber after attending a powerful photo exhibition, you already know that art can affect you in deep, meaningful ways. From boosting your mood to slowing the aging process, scientists are still documenting the myriad of ways that both viewing and creating art can affect the mind, body, and soul.

In 2015, German researchers linked creative expression to a reversal of age-related decline in brain functioning. Now, Girija Kaimal, an assistant professor of creative arts therapies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, is encouraging those battling high levels of stress to create something–anything–artistic, even if they don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the craft.

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Using cortisol levels as a chemical barometer of stress, Kaimal discovered that participants’ stress levels were significantly reduced after just 45 minutes of creative activity. And that wasn’t even the most revealing part of the study, now published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.

“It was surprising, and it also wasn’t,” Kaimal said in an article published in Drexel Now. “It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”

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Of the 39 participants ranging from 18 to 59 years old, 75 percent charted lower levels of cortisol after the experiment, regardless of their artistic ability. While a little bit less than half had admitted that their artistic experience was “limited,” their level of aptitude for creating artwork did not stop them from reaping the chemical benefits of making art. Put simply, making art lowers stress hormones, even if you stink at it.

Kaimal also found that the younger participants often benefitted most from the activity.

“I think one reason might be that younger people are developmentally still figuring out ways to deal with stress and challenges,” Kaimal said. “Older individuals—just from having lived life and being older—might have more strategies to problem-solve and manage stress more effectively.”

So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach for a pen, paint brush, or even clay—Kaimal says your medium doesn’t matter—and give yourself time to express your creative side. Your brain and body will thank you!

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Need some inspiration? Check out Duggal’s Instagram, where we look to #explorecreateinspire with our followers.

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