Now that the business of the holiday season has passed, and the chaos of going back to a normal routine has subsided, we can all breathe just a little bit deeper. Pretty soon, however, as is inevitable, life will become extremely busy again. So, today, I would like to tell you about the importance of taking time to be creative and to challenge you to make creativity a normal part of your life.
One of the biggest benefits that I have seen is that when I’m being creative, I become engrossed in what I am doing and, for a little while, all the worries of the world seem to fade away. A lot of people associate “being in the zone” with sports, however, the same state is achieved by getting engrossed in a creative project, such as writing, painting, cooking, dancing, or knitting. In fact, a 2018 study conducted in Sweden found that (according to lead author Miriam Mosing) “flow experience may indeed be somewhat protective from mental health problems.” I personally have found that when I am engrossed in a creative project, I am able to shut out the negative voices in my mind and actually enjoy what I am doing.
Another huge benefit I have found is that working on a creative project allows me to focus for longer periods of time. When my mental health is suffering, I find that focusing on anything for more than a few minutes is extremely hard. I am reading a book but find myself distracted by a particular word or phrase and the next thing I know I am going down a rabbit hole and never get back to the book. If I’m watching a tv show, I am also playing a game on my phone and folding laundry. However, when I pull out the paints and a canvas, I may have a podcast on, but what happens is that my focus remains on the art – and I realize that the whole episode has long since finished and I have no idea what they were talking about. Over time, as I spent more time being creative, I found I was able to build up my ability to focus and this extended into other areas of my life.
Unexpectedly, I found myself being able to figure things out using art that I couldn’t cognitively make sense of. For the past year, I have been having virtual art therapy sessions through the Canadian International Institute of Art Therapy. My art therapist has been instrumental in helping me come to realizations that I wasn’t able to experience with talk therapy. There have been sessions where I literally painted an entire page black or red, which felt cathartic. There have been others where we started off with one goal in mind, but ended up in a different direction and a realization that I could not have consciously come to. However, looking at the art that was created during the session led to the breakthrough.
One such example was when my art therapist asked me to depict myself as an island. She then asked me to consider what other islands may be in the water around me. I started drawing other islands – to represent my parents, my brother, my sister-in-law and my best friend. Then I thought about other family members I was close to and started adding some cousins and aunts I am close to. Well then, I started thinking that if I added this cousin, then I would have to add the other and it started to snowball. All of a sudden, the whole page was filled with islands and the idea I had of being an island in a vast ocean had been taken over by all these islands and I started having a hard time breathing at the thought of all these people – some of which I didn’t want to be there. After all, what I had in mind when we started was a lonely island – not a huge group of islands…
So, my art therapist asked me what I wanted to do to make it feel like what I wanted. So, I ended up painting the whole page blue to represent the water. I then went into a magazine and found an image of an island that I could use. By using this image, I was able to change the angle and focus on the one island. It doesn’t mean that the other islands do not exist – but it meant that my piece would only be focusing on this one island – and that too – only part of it. By zooming in, I was able to focus on me.
However, it was a very interesting exercise that taught me a few different things about myself:
I worry A LOT about being fair to everyone and treating other people as equally as possible
I am often more concerned about giving other people what they deserve than focusing on myself
I need to learn to change my focus so that I can (at least sometimes) focus on myself
All that from drawing some islands. See what I mean?
Now, I’m not saying that every creative activity will lead to huge breakthroughs in your life. But even if it doesn’t, wouldn’t you like to spend a little time doing things that are fun? To me, that is the biggest benefit of taking time to be creative. We spend so much time doing the things we should. Taking just a little time for fun is such a huge deal. It resets our mind and allows us to get back to the things we need to be doing with a refreshed mind and show up even better for those things, just because you took some time away and had a little fun.