July is World Watercolor Month, and this is a fairly recent celebration which was originated on the popular blog called ‘Doodlewash’, for the express purpose of encouraging youngsters to express themselves creatively and to follow their artistic dreams. But it isn’t just youngsters who have artistic feelings inside which should be expressed – older people can also benefit by giving free rein to their artistic natures, and by enjoying the relaxing time where creativity comes out. Private duty for the elderly has long been aware of the rewarding and calming effect that artistic creativity can provide for seniors in Tupelo and elsewhere, and for that reason, the practice is encouraged by caretakers whenever possible.
Reduced levels of stress
One of the best reasons for seniors and others to engage in creative activities such as artwork, music-making, or even writing, is that it can have a significant impact on reducing stress levels. A survey conducted by Art Therapy found that after 45 minutes of such creative engagement, there were reduced levels of a hormone known as cortisol present in people’s saliva, regardless of whether or not the person had any artistic talent.
Since cortisol has been strongly associated with stress, it follows naturally that being involved with creative activities reduces stress for those so engaged. Other studies have had similar results, including one study which found that art classes lowered the level of stress for people who were obliged to serve as caretakers for family members. College students preparing for exams were the subjects of another study which conclusively demonstrated that after 30 minutes of free-form painting, students had reduced anxiety levels, and were better prepared for their finals.
Visual art improves brain connections
The default mode network of the brain was the subject of a study conducted in 2014 by the journal Plos One, which discovered that connections all throughout this region of the brain were significantly improved for participants who engaged in creating visual art. This specific area of the brain is commonly associated with internal thoughts, future plans, and daydreaming episodes. Scientists believe that it is this area of the brain which helps people make connections between the external world and the internal world, where people visualize themselves.
Relief from sadness
A very interesting study was conducted recently by the journal called Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. During the study, participants were shown a documentary called The Laramie Project, which is considered to be a heart-breaking film, almost guaranteed to elicit sadness in viewers. After viewing the film, participants were broken up into three groups, one of which was asked to just sit quietly, while another was asked to produce art related to the film, and the final group was asked to generate artwork of their choosing.
Results showed that the group which was tasked with creating artwork unrelated to the film were relieved of their sadness much more quickly and much more deeply than either of the other two groups. From this, researchers concluded that being allowed to fully express yourself in some way was the fastest and most effective relief for sadness.
Writing about problems helps with their solution
Writing about problems which people are confronted with can contribute significantly to putting them into perspective, and coming to some level of closure about them. One study conducted by the Journal of Clinical Psychology discovered that people who wrote about some kind of traumatic experience in their lives found the sessions to be extremely valuable, and more than 98% of these individuals declared that they would participate again if given the chance.
The control group for this study was asked to write about something non-emotional, such as the details of their environment, while the experimental group was the ones tasked with writing about a genuine emotional event. Not surprisingly, the control group experienced little or no relief, while the experimental group felt that they had gained valuable experience in confronting their feelings about the traumatic event.
Playing music contributes to brain cognition
Scientists have known for decades that the creative process involved in playing music has a strong connection with better cognition in the brain. There is also a strong correlation between better academic performance, improved memory, and more advanced language abilities. Adults who engage in playing an instrument or even with singing songs derive many of the same benefits, experiencing an improved quality of life, along with a greater sense of well-being. Physical and mental health are almost always improved, even in senior citizens, when they’re involved with the music-making process or with singing songs.
Doodling for mental health
It should be emphasized that seniors and other participants in creative activities need not have any special abilities in order to derive benefits from them. A study conducted by The Atlantic found that doodling can help people pay more attention, even when listening to something they consider terribly boring. The act of doodling seems to promote better focus and prevent people’s minds from drifting off onto other topics.
A study which was recently published in Applied Cognitive Psychology discovered that participants could recall 29% more information when quizzed afterward if they had been doodling throughout the presentation. Those who were not doodling were simply asked to do their best to recall the information related during the presentation, but could not match the results achieved by the doodlers.
From all the examples referenced above, a clear takeaway should be that any kind of engagement with artistic activity will generally provide better physical and better mental health for the individuals involved, regardless of age or artistic proficiency.