When was the last time you did something creative for the pure joy of expressing yourself? One of my functional medicine mentors, Deanna Minich, posed that question a while back. She was researching how our health is affected by creativity. I had to think – am I creative? Yes! Yes, I used to be very creative as a vocalist. I still love to sing, but have not been intentional to express that component of who I am. As many of you know, I am a first time mother of twins and most, if not all if my time in the past seven months has been consumed (and enjoyably so) with caring for my family. I was disappointed in myself when I reflected on my lack of intention with my creative side. It’s not uncommon for creative endeavors to be pushed aside when time is sparse.
If you, like myself, have not been indulging in the enjoyment of creative energy, you may be missing out on a vital piece of your overall health and well-being. In the past few months I’ve had a string of patients who have been extremely motivated to make major changes in their health. Diet, lifestyle, hormone balance, exercise-you name it. They do it and they do it well. And although they feel ’95% better,’ they have expressed frustration that they were ‘missing a piece of the puzzle to total wellness.’ I didn’t have the answer and that weighs on me. I now wonder if the absence of creativity could be hindering people from complete healing.
So what do I mean by creativity? Singing, dancing around your house, looking at a piece of art, doodling, scribbling down your hopes and dreams, taking a painting class, watching clouds float by, enjoying a novel – to name a few. It’s hard to objectify creativity because the options are endless. Don’t be scared of judgment or the potential to fail! Even just listening to music or looking at art has healing benefits. A systematic review of the health benefits of music found that it has the power to positively influence inflammatory cytokines (any of various proteins, secreted by cells, that carry signals to neighboring cells) and cortisol, as well as reduce stress, and thereby provide health benefits for stress-related illnesses. Another study found that listening to music during childbirth reduced the level of postpartum anxiety and pain, and it also reduced the rate of early postpartum depression.
One hypothesis for why creativity is so beneficial to health is that it facilitates deep relaxation. Many of the studies above included patients who felt more relaxation or had reduced stress after creating or enjoying art. Studies have found that stimulating the relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response, is correlated with improved health. In one study that compared long-term practitioners of activities that stimulated the relaxation response, such as meditation, led to a decrease in ACTH (a polypeptide hormone, that stimulates the cortex of adrenal glands), which stimulates the stress hormones.
Just recently, Drexel University published an article demonstrating that coloring, doodling, and drawing all showed significant blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the portion of the brain related to regulating our thoughts, feelings and actions. It is also related to emotional and motivational systems and part of the wiring for our brains reward circuit. And there was no significant difference between artists and non-artists! Creativity is mind-body medicine. I don’t know what medium will work for you, but I hope you find joy in connecting to your creative spirit and letting it flow out of you.
Hope Placher, PA-C, IFMCP