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The fundamental principle behind many expressive therapies is to uncover and address subconscious issues that may have been influencing an individual’s behaviors. And while this is a common aim for many different types of therapy, the way expressive therapy activities differ is that they try to bring about these issues with active, sensory, and usually physical experiences. Listed below are seven ways expressive therapy benefits your health.

Art Increases Brain Connectivity and Plasticity

Did you know that every time you engage in a new or complex activity, your brain creates new connections between brain cells? Brain Plasticity or neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to grow connections and change throughout your lifetime. Creating art, whether your niche is pottery, painting, interpretive dance, or playing guitar, stimulates connections between various paths in the brain. Studies show that by creating these connections, your brain is increasing psychological resilience and resistance to stress!

Art Boosts Self-Esteem

As a child, having your artwork displayed on the refrigerator door was the ultimate compliment. It gave you a sense of accomplishment and boosted your self-esteem. Today, hanging your latest piece of artwork on the wall can give you the same feeling. Creating art increases the neurotransmitter, dopamine. 

Excellent for motivation, dopamine boosts drive, focus, and concentration and enables you to plan ahead so you can reach your goals and resist impulses. Crafting hobbies (photography, woodworking, knitting, DIY home repair, etc.) increase dopamine, ward off depression, and protect the brain from aging.

Art Eases the Burden of Chronic Health Conditions

Millions of people worldwide are dealing with chronic health conditions, and additionally the anxiety, depression, and stress that can often accompany them. Not only does art allow patients to take their minds off their illness for a while and focus on positive life experiences, but art has also been known to help the patients maintain the identity of who they were before their diagnosis. Art also reduced stress for patients by lowering levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Creating Art Relieves Stress

Creating art provides a distraction, giving your brain a break from its usual thoughts. Activities such as drawing, sculpting, painting, dance, music, and photography are rewarding hobbies that lower your stress levels and keep you mentally clear and calm. The meditative-like state of mind you experience when immersed in an art project allows your mind to focus and temporarily push aside all worries. One of the most popular art trends to manage stress relief is adult coloring books.

Art Encourages Creative Thinking

Dr. Lawrence Katz, author of Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises to Help Prevent Memory Loss and Increase Mental Fitness, found that mental decline was due mainly to loss of communication between brain cells, not necessarily from the death of brain cells. There are several art benefits that can exercise your brain and keep you mentally fit. Art enhances problem-solving skills, unlike in math, there is no one correct answer in art. Creative thinking allows you to come up with unique solutions and grow new neurons in the process.

Art Encourages Self-Awareness and Expression 

Creativity is said to be the route to authenticity. As we create, we reach the depths of what we think and believe, therefore, the more we create, the more we learn about ourselves. We discover our impulses, habits, and desires all through creativity. When we devote the needed time and energy to create, we find ourselves able to better express ourselves to the world on a regular basis.

Creating Mandalas Can Minimize Symptoms of Trauma

In 2007, researchers David Rosen and Patti Henderson conducted a study dividing 36 people suffering from PTSD into two groups. One group drew mandalas for 20 minutes at a time for 3 days in a row, and the second group was instructed to draw an object for the same period of time. At a one-month follow-up, the participants who had drawn the mandalas showed a decrease in symptoms of trauma, whereas those who had not drawn the mandalas did not.

The usage of expressive therapy can help tap into the mind and body connection, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, recent studies have proclaimed that 45 minutes of creative activity a day can significantly reduce stress. Whether through art, play, music, movement, enactment, or creative writing, expressive therapies stimulate the senses, thereby “sensitizing” individuals to untapped aspects of themselves which facilitates self-discovery, change, and reparation.

Author: Phoenix Campus Arizona College of Nursing Counselor Tracey-Anne Robinson, M.A., LPC,

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