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How do you practice creativity? Writing, drawing, painting, embroidery, and even coloring can be a powerful means to mental health. Creating art (professional or otherwise) allows us to disconnect from stress, express inner thoughts, and even meditate. In recent years, scientists have studied the positive effects art therapy can have on our health. So far, the results are promising.

Practicing art requires focus and concentration. It is easy to become lost in thought as we paint, sketch, or write. This “flow” or meditative state can help improve our mental health. In fact, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. As you create art, allow yourself to experience your stressful thoughts and recognize them as just thoughts and not as something that defines you. Over time, as you continue to practice art and meditation, this special time can actually alter your brain for the better. Harvard researchers found meditation can change the brain’s grey matter –– a major part of the central nervous system that is associated with processing information –– as well as providing nutrients and energy to neurons. These changes can lead to improved mood, memory, and a reduction in stress.

Sometimes, it is easier to put thoughts on paper rather than saying them out loud. Do you struggle with painful memories or traumatic events from your past? You might even have reoccurring anxiety that is difficult to confront. Art therapy can be effective in these situations. Painting or drawing these memories and anxieties can help start the process of talking about them. Through art, you are moving the thoughts out of your mind and on to the paper. The process can be cathartic and allows you to be proactive in your own therapy.

Setting aside time in the day for yourself is always beneficial. Consider scheduling time a few days a week when you can be purposely creative. Make a sketch, try painting, or even write a simple poem. As you work, play some calming music or enjoy some silence. The time you spend focusing on art can help distract you from stress and provide an effective outlet for tension.

Interested in giving art a try? Do not be intimidated by the process. Start simply with a paint-by-number or an “adult” coloring book. Consider signing up for an art class through a community college or city program. Find a creative hobby you enjoy and set aside time for some positive reflection.