Even if you’re the type of person who exclaims, “I can’t even draw a straight line!” being creative can still significantly reduce your stress levels.
In a new study of healthy individuals, researchers at Drexel University found that participation in 45 minutes of creative arts was linked to a significant drop in the level of the stress hormone, cortisol. Interestingly, this drop was not dependent on artistic ability, experience, gender, or the type of materials used.
In the study, participants were allowed to be create whatever they liked with markers, collage, clay, or a combination, and without the expectation that they needed to finish. Before and after salivary cortisol was taken to assess stress levels, and participants were also asked to provide feedback about their experience. On average, cortisol was reduced by just over 17%. Some feedback from participants included that project was enjoyable, aided self awareness, and put them in a state of flow, but also that the process was challenging at first, which they overcome. Others said they would like to create art again in the future.
While we all have stress, high levels of ongoing stress is linked to negative outcomes in even otherwise healthy people. The ability to modulate day-to-day stress is important for everyone, but for those with mental and physical health issues, reducing stress can be even more important to their physical and psychological wellbeing.
It is important to mention that this was a pilot study that didn’t include a control group and the sample size was relatively small, plus not all participants saw a decrease in cortisol levels. That being said, other studies have also shown decreases in stress during creative projects. These studies followed a therapeutic approach, often a specific art project, and led by a professional, rather than free-form creative expression.
Ultimately, being creative – even if you’re not a natural artist – can reduce your stress in a way that is non-invasive, cheap, and easy to do almost anywhere. So grab a pencil and scribble away!
Kaimal, G., Ray, K., & Muniz, J. (2016). Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making. Art Therapy, 33(2), 74-80. doi:10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832