Deal With Stress

How Creative Activities Can Help to Reduce Stress

woman relieving stress by craftingOne of my most beloved relaxation activities is to get deeply involved in a creative venture. Some of my favorites are drawing and painting, taking walks and photographs in nature, gardening, and horseback riding. Creative activities have always been a way to get back in touch with myself, restore joy and move away from stress, restored me to balance and helped me to work through problems.

Another old favorite that I’ve taken back up is knitting and crocheting.  There seems to be something calming about the simple repeated movements involved in creating something beautiful.  There are so many beautiful yarns available, some of which are hand-spun and even hand-dyed with natural plant dyes.  One of my artisan friends mentioned to me that the very act of knitting activates and harmonizes the right and left sides of the brain.  This would seem a huge asset in stressful times when we become entrapped in activity that is dominated by a left-brain linear goal-oriented mode.

Of course, we need to approach creativity in such a way that we aren’t tormented by frustration or feelings of low self-worth because we consider our creations to be dismal failures.  It is really important to reconsider what creativity is a journey, not something to ridicule.  How cruel we humans can be, both to themselves and to others!  A healing journey brings us away from judgmental thoughts and opens the doors to realizing our true potential.

A common self-sabotage that we humans do ourselves is to be a harsh judge, and tell ourselves that “I can’t draw/paint/sculpt”.  Or, perhaps we have been told by a teacher or family member that we have no talent.  But let me tell you, art is not just for the high-class galleries and museums.  As much as we love and admire the famous artists, this is only one aspect of creativity – one where the average person is left to be a passive viewer.

Instead of judging your efforts, move on past the initial struggle with the media or technique and begin to experience the “magic” or what many artists call “the flow”.  Trust me in this, throw away the preconceptions; the doors to being in the flow remain shut while we are in “hanging judge” mode! Drop the critic and play.

So, if taking up a creative “hobby” seems daunting to you, go ahead and jump in.  Allow no one – especially yourself -to pass judgment on your efforts. I believe that the creative arts and crafts are a journey, a path to discovery.  In that sense, it is the journey that is important, not the finished product or the final destination. In today’s society we are so driven to strive for end results that we miss the whole experience of life.  This is, I believe, the heart of the teachings of those mentors who teach mindful meditation. I very highly recommend Julie Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way- A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity and her second book, Vein of Gold – A Journey to Your Creative Heart. There is a website here, where you can find free art lessons online; I’m sure you can find more resources if you poke around.

Although I am not a musician, music is very much a part of my life.  With music, you can transform your feelings, enhance your learning and creativity, and heal the mind and body.  Somehow, even though we are at first glance, a “passive” participant while we listen, music deeply affects our body and mind.  The sounds literally vibrate through our body, and influence our brain waves.  Listening to music then, is a very physical experience. Music is a bridge between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.  Baroque music in particular allows our bodies to become relaxed and our mind to open to its fullest potential.  The effect of Baroque music on the brain has been well researched, as told in the book “the Mozart Effect” by psychologist Don Cambell.

Music has a profound effect on the brain waves and breathing rates, as well as the serotonin levels in the body. The slow 60 beats per minute of Baroque adagio music not only enhance learning, the alpha brain waves increase by 6% when listening to Baroque music. The alpha brain waves generate a relaxed, reflecting, healing and creative state. Stress is experienced when beta brain waves – the alert, working state – dominate. While it is good to be alert and productive, when we spend too much time in beta state, we become stressed, with all the resulting negative impacts on our mind and body.

Whether you are doing routine tasks or involved in a creative or learning activity, playing certain music in the background can help reduce stress and enhance your brain’s creativity. Research has shown that high achieving athletes and creative people operate in alpha and theta states far more often than is typical.  Artists tell us that when they are in their creative state, they describe it as being “in the flow”.  Athletes call it being “in the zone”.

One of the best exercises I know is called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.  This book is a real door-opener and I highly recommend it.  It will free you up and overturn everything you always thought about “art”. For journaling and writing, get Gabriele Lusser Rico’s book, Writing the Natural Way – Using Right-Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Powers.

Creativity is action, getting deeply involved in life and experience. Creative endeavors are healing and liberating.  I believe that the higher mission of creativity is to celebrate our connection with the Creator, however one wishes to define high power.  It is healing, and a road to discovery.  It is also communication with others, a way of celebrating kinship with others – one reason that universities used the term “humanities” to describe those studies involving creative arts.

Tell me about your favorite creative activities.  Does taking time for creativity help to reduce stress?  Please write in and share your experience with others in the Comments section below.

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