Brought to you by Bupa Global
When we think of the things that are beneficial to our wellbeing, how many of us automatically think of exercise and diet, before considering any creative hobbies? Your first reaction to the term “hobby” might be to assume a certain childishness, but children are not the only ones who need a creative outlet to explore their imagination.
A report from the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPG) suggests that having a creative hobby can actually do wonders in benefiting our mental and emotional health. It follows two years of research, which found that the arts can help to keep us well, aid recovery, and support people to live longer and healthier lives. We speak to Bupa Global about how creative hobbies can benefit your health, no matter your age.
Whether it’s drawing, singing, playing music, writing, baking, dancing, or gardening, having a creative outlet can work wonders for your mind. Here are some of the ways that different types of creative activities can benefit you, and what the latest research says.
Let’s start with flow: the state that you get into when you’re completely absorbed in something. This can help to increase your positive emotions and reduce anxiety, but it’s not just being in the flow that can boost your wellbeing. Repetitive activities like drawing, knitting, and painting can help to flood your brain with dopamine, the feel-good chemical that helps to motivate us.
Marieke Syed, founder of SNACKZILLA, agrees. “Running a small business means being on a rollercoaster ride of constant highs and lows, which can leave me feeling overwhelmed at times. For me, getting stuck in to activities like cooking or painting acts as a form of meditation. The concentration needed to accomplish these activities gives me a state of flow which I love. Time stops still and a wonderful sense of calmness envelops me.”
Creative activities can also really help people deal with different kinds of trauma and negative feelings by having a calming effect on both brain and body. For example, studies have found that painting, drawing, or writing can enable people to express or manage their emotions in a positive and productive way. This can include helping them to express their goals, or experiences that may be too difficult to put into words. Caroline Harper, Bupa Global’s specialist mental health nurse advisor, also notes that engaging in group hobbies or creative activities with a social element has positive effects on mental health.
If music is your creative outlet, here’s even more good news. Research shows that people who like to play instruments have better connectivity between the left and right parts of their brain, which can help to improve cognitive function.
For Bupa Global employee Graham, playing a musical instrument also provides mindful relaxation. “I really enjoy playing the acoustic guitar. There’s something very relaxing about sitting down, playing different chords and finger-picking patterns, and seeing where it takes me.
“I also love the feeling of the steel strings as I strum them and experimenting with the different sounds that I can create. Sometimes I’ll start forming ideas for a song, and a few lyrics will come into my head that might fit over the top. I could happily sit there for hours doing this, if I had the time,” he adds.
There’s evidence to suggest that music used as a form of therapy for people with dementia can help to reduce agitation and the need for medication. But if you’re keener on writing than music, try writing things down using the old-fashioned method of a pen and paper. This can help to boost your memory and learning.
Now that we know creativity is good for our health, how do we make the time do it? Despite what you may think, it is indeed possible to incorporate creativity into our daily lives. A good way is to commit time in 15- to 30-minute bursts, with a larger result or definitive end goal in mind. You can also simply dedicate an afternoon every now and again to creativity, but if you want to create something more substantial, then having structure would be useful. It can become a nice habit to take personal time out and have something to show for that you can be proud of.
Still stuck for ideas and need a creative nudge? Here are some of the different ways you can engage in a creative activity and boost your wellbeing.
“It’s really important to bear in mind that the end outcome of the creativity is not important. It’s about the freedom of being creative and enjoying the process,” adds Harper. “This can be something that lots of people struggle with, as we’re often taught to strive for perfection, when really what we should be ‘striving’ or ‘thriving’ for is pleasure and positive wellbeing.”