October 29, 2021
by Grace Farag, Senior Copywriter
October is Emotional Wellness Month, and the connection between creativity and emotional wellness is a powerful one worth exploring. Extensive research confirms that artistic endeavors act to reduce stress, relieve anxiety and lessen the sting of trauma. Creativity builds emotional resilience and spurs motivation.
For these reasons and plenty more, Emotional Wellness Month is an opportunity to consider how we’re doing and especially how we’re feeling. With the holidays (and their attendant stresses) just around the corner, now is the perfect time to take steps toward learning how we can engage in even small, simple acts of creativity that can help support emotional health.
Step 1: Define Your Terms
“Creativity” is one of those words that we all think we understand, without maybe really knowing what it means. Let’s look at the actual Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the term.
By these definitions, creativity is not defined by what a person makes but rather by the capacity for, and the act of, making. That’s it. That’s all. In other words, if you’re alive, guess what? You’re creative.
In a way, the marketing industry did a disservice by turning “creative” into a noun — and I say this as an agency creative myself. These days, people think that they aren’t creative if they are not a creative. And that’s simply not true. I know so many people who are not technically “creatives” but who are incredibly creative in their lives.
As a “creative,” I am also always aware of the trope of the “crazy artist type”— as though emotional wellness is detrimental to being a creative person. It’s the idea that Vincent van Gogh wouldn’t have painted so beautifully if he weren’t off his rocker. Well, with all due respect to van Gogh, that idea is not only nonsense — it’s damaging.
Remember: You are creative. Creativity is good for you. And your emotional health is good for your creativity.
Step 2: Take the Pressure Off
Burnout has become a bit of a buzzword these days, but there’s also no denying that burnout does seem to be on the rise. And I would argue that one reason might be a lack of creative, non-pressured outlets in our lives.
What do I mean by non-pressured? Well, I mean something we do simply because we enjoy it and not because there is any kind of expectation that we have to be excellent at it.
I read an enlightening article by Tim Wu in the New York Times a while back that talks about the benefits of having hobbies and interests — activities we just enjoy doing for the pleasure of it. On the flip side of that argument, when we don’t have those activities in our lives — when we turn everything we love doing into a means of income, or just drop it altogether because we aren’t “good enough” at it — we suffer for the lack of a creative outlet that hobbies once gave us.
Wu has a great insight into why the idea of having a hobby seems to have fallen out of favor lately:
But there’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our “hobbies,” if that’s even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.
In this era of side hustles and striving to rack up as many “likes” from strangers as possible, it seems like we’ve lost the art of doing things “just because” they make us feel good. If that resonates with you the way it does with me, maybe it’s time to think about how to reclaim hobbies for our pleasure — and, by extension, for our emotional health.
Step 3: Slow Your Roll
Now that we know how instrumental creative pursuits can be to our overall feelings of well-being and happiness, it’s time to audit our days and find ways to infuse more creative opportunities into them. Here are a couple of things to try:
Digital detox practice. I have found it extremely helpful (when I manage it) to take periodic breaks from digital media. I find that my nerves feel much less jangly when I’m not constantly plugged into our era’s 24/7 toxic diet of news, Instagram feeds, and other social collateral. Even just making a point of not listening to anything when I go for a 20-minute walk can be beneficial to my mood. (A good book about how and why to try digital detoxing is “How to Break Up with Your Phone“ by Catherine Price.)
Taking a scheduled break from the always-on digital world not only can help in managing stress, anxiety, and depression, but also free up some time and space that you could put toward personal creative pursuits.
Think of it this way: When we consume media, we are consuming other people’s creativity. Give yourself permission to prioritize your own.
Mindfulness practice. Talk about buzzwords. “Mindfulness” is a big one, but there is definitely research supporting that a mindfulness practice (often grounded in breathing techniques) can help center us and calm our nerves. Who knows? You may find creative clarity or inspiration in the soothing afterglow.
Step 4: Follow the 3 C’s
There are plenty of ways to support your emotional health via creativity. Use these alliterative examples to help you stay on track:
Cultivate Curiosity. As we get older, it’s really easy to just get locked into our groove or lane of expertise. We stick to what we know. We work at what we’re already good at. As such, cultivating curiosity is very important to both creativity and emotional health. When we are curious about the world, it means we are approaching it with more openness.
A couple of years ago, I heard a podcast about language and how it can shape the way we think and view the world. The guy being interviewed on the podcast had written a book, so I ended up buying and reading it. I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn about something I’d not given much thought to before. Now, there was no immediate practical benefit to what I learned. It didn’t help me get ahead at work. It didn’t change my life. It just made me think about things in a different way, which was fun — and that was enough.
So what are you curious about? Go forth and find out more about it!
Connect With a Community. We find inspiration in others, and we can also learn from them. Getting involved in a group can be good for our emotional health, too. If you are an introvert like me, you may need to push yourself to do this. But the benefits are worth it.
For example, I recently joined a local photography club. Not only do I look forward to learning and growing in my skills as a (hobbyist!) photographer, but I’m excited to meet people I otherwise might not cross paths with. It’s a win-win.
If the idea of joining a group sounds overwhelming, just remember: Joining isn’t the same as taking on an active role with lots of responsibility! Sometimes it’s OK to sit back, let others do the leading and organizing, and simply enjoy being along for the ride.
Celebrate Change. Where there’s change, there’s life, and where there’s life, there’s hope. So as we head toward the end of another challenging year and think about changes we’d like to make in the new, consider: What new thing would you like to learn, try, or experience? Is there an activity that you’d love to turn into a hobby? It doesn’t have to be big; it just has to make you feel that little spark of excitement and interest.
Make time to actively seek out inspiration. There are apps and books and all kinds of resources that can help you figure out ways to light that creative spark if you need it. People, too! Read a biography of someone you admire. Try writing a story with the help of inspiration like the “Amazing Story Generator.“ Get a cookbook filled with recipes for dishes from a cuisine you like but have never really tried making yourself. Give yourself a(n easy) challenge. Go to a museum or see if they have virtual exhibitions online that you can explore. Watch a documentary about a topic of interest. Go. Do. Be.
Finally, learn to give yourself a pat on the back for your creative accomplishments —whether it’s mastering a new recipe (or even just attempting one), taking a pottery class, DIYing a bookshelf, knitting a scarf, figuring out how to rebuild a car engine, anything! Treat yourself to something fun as a reward. Or maybe just set aside a moment or two after you’ve completed your project to breathe deeply and be consciously grateful for the fact that you are here, you are alive, and you created something that didn’t exist before you made it.
Enjoy, have fun — and be well.