Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with a group from Methodist Hospital on the connection between creativity and physical health. The group is committed to losing weight and gaining strength, all while maintaining a challenging career and busy home life.
The woman who asked me to speak posed the question: "We all know creativity is good for you. But how do we find the time to do it?"
Here in the Midwest the idea of it can feel almost naughty. Let's start with some facts, then. In a decades-long literature review of how art affects medical outcomes, we have found that art distracts from thoughts of illness, improves well-being by decreasing distress and increasing pleasure—even to the point of reducing clinical depression, reduces stress and anxiety, is positively correlated with improved cognitive flow and spontaneity, greatly eases the expression of grief, helps develop a more positive identity and mastery, and helps develop social networks.
Even seeing art can aid in positive outcomes—patients who had a painting of a landscape in their room after surgical procedures had less need of narcotics for pain management, and were able to be discharge from the hospital sooner than those who did not have art nearby.
Perhaps our first step, then, is acknowledging that we need creative expression just as much as we need to brush our teeth or eat healthy food. Making art is a daily practice that keeps us healthy, and to neglect it is to neglect ourselves.
Here's the next question, then. How? We need to design a routine that is sustainable, flexible, and works within our day.
Opportunity and Habit
Waiting for inspiration leads to a lot of waiting and not much creating. The trick is, you need to seek out what inspires you and gobble it up. The more we record beauty, the more we see. Always carry tools with you to document your environment—a pencil, a small flexible sketchbook you can slip in your pocket or purse. If you own a smartphone, you have a camera, a video recorder, an audio recorder, and the ability to carry thousands of moments of beauty in your pocket. Use that magic phone of yours and think like an artist!
Your phone can also be a good indicator of when you have a moment to create. Whenever your fingers start to itch and you have that urge to check Facebook, that is a sign that you have a spare moment to do something with your hands instead.
One of the best ways to be in an artistic mindset is to create a small space in your day where you know you're going to be creative—you don't have to decide it, it's just habit. If you have to decide to create, you've just used precious energy on deciding and not creating. Set up a mug of colored pencils next to your coffee in the morning, draw a quick sketch while you wake up. Keep a box of crayons next to your phone at work, create mandalas while you're on hold.
You are working within the structure of your day and giving previously mindless moments a chance to be mindful.
Of course, sometimes magic happens and one of your sketches or photos or doodles switches something on inside of you. You can't keep the image out of your head, it dances and turns and you find yourself smiling. That's when you make yourself a date, bust out those paints, and get cracking!
These moments are worth celebrating, but they alone are not what makes creativity. Start small, be kind with yourself, and see what happens. You may find you feel pretty good!
Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254-263. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497