Mental wellness. I’ve been thinking about these two words and their amalgamated meaning a lot recently as regular life begins once again. At first glance, I thought I knew nothing on the subject, but as I sat in my room, listening to old sappy songs, hunched over my painting, I thought about my own life and how I kept the slightest bit sane amidst the struggles of everyday life. As it turns out, I found that many of the little things we do in life contribute to maintaining healthy mental wellbeing. For me, it’s taking walks alone to collect my thoughts and playing Debussy on the piano and discovering new music and most recently, painting. The more I thought about how it made me feel, the more my mind kept bringing up the term “art therapy”.
Now I’ve heard of this many times before, but it wasn’t until now that I’ve really understood what it means to me and my own mental health.
Art provides a plethora of relaxing and expressive hobbies that help to lower stress, feel mentally calm, and boost brain connectivity by stimulating communication between different areas of our brain. Much of the relaxation experienced after doing art is attributed to the release of dopamine throughout our system, which is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter to help boost motivation, focus, drive, and concentration. Contrary to the stigma that therapy is strictly for those with a mental illness, though it is a highly researched form of therapy for mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, it can simply incorporated into our everyday routine as a soothing and calming activity to improve mental wellness when dealing with the common stresses of life.
Dr. Martin Seligman developed a theory of mental wellbeing built on the traits of Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment, or PERMA, many of which are found through the development of artistic skills. Through art, many are able to resonate with their innermost feelings, even those their minds hadn’t yet comprehended. This release of built-up emotion leaves artists of any medium feeling in a state of freedom and inner tranquility. Engagement simply refers to actively taking part in an activity that they enjoy and feel passion for, releasing their minds of outwardly stresses, encompassing themselves in a positive and welcoming environment. Art is a physical form of self-representation that can unite and bond people together, forming relationships with their peers and others in the community. As Michael B. Friedman from Columbia University puts it, art acts as a form of self-expression and even self-creation. The long and meticulous hours spent creating a piece of art that the creator is proud of is a satisfying reassurance of accomplishment, most needed in the times we feel like unmotivated or pessimistic of the circumstances in front of us. The development and production of art is a fulfilling activity that stimulates the brain without requiring any strenuous effort to calm and relax our minds and bodies.
Colour psychology is sometimes used alongside art therapy to emote when words may not suffice. It works through the effect of colours on one’s emotions and personal health. Purple is often used to enhance creativity and spirituality, oranges and yellows would stimulate appetite, and red ensues passion, power, and energy. Blues and green colours create a calming environment, which is why they are often used in hospital decor and design to facilitate rest and faster healing. This idea can be applied to everyday life, while painting or even wearing and surrounding ourselves with certain colours can bring forth the feelings we wish for and may be needing at that moment.
Upson, J. (2018, July 25). The Role of Art Therapy in Mental Health & Recovery. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://www.ccrw.org/2018/07/25/the-role-of-art-therapy-in-mental-health-recovery/#:~:text=Art as a Therapy&text=It utilizes the process of,symptoms of stress and depression
PERMA™ Theory of Well-Being and PERMA™ Workshops. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma-theory-well-being-and-perma-workshops#:~:text=There are five building blocks,building blocks to varying degrees.