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22 Sep 2023

Nurturing Mental Wellbeing Through Creativity

Creative practice can be a balm for the mind. A way to make space to explore new ideas and process emotion in a healthy way. As we collectively understand and uncover increasing understanding and demand on our individual and collective mental wellness, it is important to understand the options that are available to us. 

Whilst we have been working through a public health pandemic, there has also been a parallel shadow pandemic of anxiety, stress, anger, and frustration. We are still experiencing elements of this and because of that, there is a growing need for people of all communities to find pathways to service their own mental wellness.  

One possible solution can come in the form of regular creative practice. Building upon our previous story about daily creative habits, there is evidence to suggest that creative activity can make positive contributions to mental wellness. 

On the surface, it may seem flippant to say that creativity is the solution to a mental health crisis – it is certainly a complex and multifaceted issue. But we are quite sure that regular engagement with creativity is definitely part of the solution. 

Creative activity has the power to change our brain function, mental health and physical wellbeing. We can show research, trials, and community focussed programmes that clearly demonstrate the role of creativity in embodying joy, magic, kindness and collective transcendence as an antidote to those challenges. 

By choosing to prioritise creative activity in your life, you have an opportunity to make changes to address the long term effect of stress on our brain function. Arts, culture and creative experiences that we find emotional connection to serve as a neurological pathway to awe and wonder. These hard to describe phenomena have a profound impact on changing our capacity to deal with stress. By engaging regularly with the creative experiences that resonate most with you, there is potential to lower stress baselines, and increase the quality and longevity of your life.

If we understand these benefits of creativity, then we need to find ways to regularly engage with it throughout our lives. One important pathway is through work – many of us will spend a third of our lives at work, so having creative fun at work can contribute to our happiness, passion and engagement. Creativity is an investment that never fails. The more you create, the more you want to continue to create. This self perpetuating cycle can have positive benefits through proactive creation, curation and activation of playful creativity.

We should be encouraging more creativity, and embracing more moments of joy. Those brief moments of celebration and wonder that can contribute positively to our resilience. According to Ingrid Fetell Lee, “When we allow ourselves to feel moments of joy it helps us sleep better, lowers our stress levels, enables us to connect with others, and leads to more capacity for creativity and better performance at work… we’re up to 12 percent more productive in a state of joy.”

So, as we acknowledge Mental Health Awareness Week, it is appropriate to celebrate the connections between creativity and mental wellness in alignment with the five activities for the week. 

Take Notice | Me Aro Tonu

“When we take notice or practice mindfulness, we’re creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions.”

A creative approach might be that of active listening like a sonic artist – go outside, sit quietly and listen to the world around you. Make a note of all the things you hear. This deep listening practice “cultivates a heightened awareness of the sonic environment”

Give | Tukua

“Carrying out acts of kindness boosts our happiness, life satisfaction, and overall wellbeing. When we help others, it gives us purpose and a sense of belonging – it’s a win/win! ”

A creative approach could be to spend some time creating a collage postcard and then send your new artwork to a friend. 

Be Active | Me Kori Tonu 

“Physical activity reduces stress and anxiety levels, promotes relaxation and enhances overall mental resilience. It can even sharpen our thinking and boost our creativity.”

A creative approach might be to throw on your favourite song and have an impromptu dance party while singing along full voice! Rhythmic movement can help provide “greater confidence and more compassion.”

Connect | Me Whakawhanaunga

“Connect refers to making social connections, or whakawhanaungatanga. A sense of feeling connected, loved or belonging with others is strongly associated with better wellbeing”

A creative approach could be to meet up with a friend or family member and read each other some poetry. Poetry comes in many forms, and can create bonds between people. 

Keep Learning | Me Ako Tonu

“learning or trying new things creates a sense of achievement, competence and stimulates engagement with the world around us.”

A creative approach might be to learn to paint a picture. There are classes and teachers in local communities, but you might also engage in an online video tutorial or an old Bob Ross video

Creativity can take many forms, and the benefits we experience also can be varied and evolve over time. The key thing is to find something that brings a sense of joy and something you want to engage in regularly. It is not about perfection, it is about enjoying the process and removing the burden of the creative act needing to be any more than an exercise for wellbeing.

Make time for creativity to support your mental wellness because, as noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests, “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.”