Why Creativity Is The Best Tool For Navigating Challenges
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
With these “unprecedented times” comes some unprecedented emotions. In the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%, and many are feeling the crunch of increased costs of living, political unrest and non-stop news. We are all feeling so deeply at this moment in history, and it is undoubtedly affecting our mental health.
What can we do, in times like these, to support ourselves and our communities? I believe the answer is art. Having an outlet isn’t the cure for what we’re experiencing, but it can be the medicine. Art can help us process our emotions and to share our inner experiences with others. It’s a way to move through it.
But do you have to be a “creative person” to use art as an outlet? Absolutely not. Everyone is creative in their own way. Everyone is an artist in their own right. You may be called to music, painting, writing — all of these and more are valid expressions of our emotions. You also don’t have to create museum-worthy art for your art to help you in times of strife.
The key is to acknowledge that we are having a human experience, and art is one of the most powerful ways to express that. But to boost our mood, manage our mental health and care for ourselves, we must first accept that we are, in fact, artists.
We’re all artists
There is truly no more creative time in our lives than childhood. It’s a free and precious time where creativity flows easily and in abundance, but it is fleeting. Many of us were told at a certain age that we had to “grow up” and take on more mature pursuits — like school, careers, parenthood, etc. Many are not told to continue to express themselves through creativity.
It starts young, too. Laura Parrott Perry, author and public speaker, has asked kindergarten, third grade and middle school student classrooms the same question for years: “Everyone here who is an artist, raise your hand.” In kindergarten classrooms, almost every student raises their hand. In the third-grade classrooms, only about half will raise their hand. In middle school classrooms, usually only one or two children will raise their hand.
As we grow up, we’re told — by loved ones and society — that art isn’t a mature outlet. There was a time when we all identified as artists and could express ourselves creatively, but that changed somewhere along the line. We came to think that some of us are artists and some are not, but the truth is we all are artists in our own ways. There is no prerequisite to being an artist, there’s no level of expertise needed or amount of practice.
Study after study shows that art helps people get in touch with and express their feelings. What do we think happens when we lock down our creative urges and when we don’t allow ourselves to let out our emotions? We shut down, we self-medicate, we avoid. And our mental health deteriorates.
Now, more than ever, I think we as adults are being called to remember our creativity and tap into it. Art is how we process, how we heal and how we prepare for what’s ahead.
Using honest art to process emotions
When I tell my students to “leave it on the canvas,” I mean that they can fully express what they’re feeling through their art. You don’t have to create pretty art or gallery-worthy art. You can create art that honestly reflects what you’re feeling in the moment.
If you’ve been out of touch with your creativity for a while, this might feel foreign. You might find yourself trying to replicate artists you admire or simply trying hard to make something “perfect.” But that’s not the art that helps us during times of trouble. Be honest with yourself, and channel what you’re truly feeling into your art.
Are you sad? Are you happy? Are you angry? Frustrated? Excited? The best way to approach art in a therapeutic way is to harness your emotions and feelings and use them as fuel for your creation.
You don’t need to paint like Van Gogh or play music like Chopin. You don’t need to worry about what others might think of your creation or if it will make you money. Create things purely for yourself, not for the sake of making something for others. If we are to use our art to improve our mental health, it means we have to tell the truth — our truth.
Your truth and your feelings need to not only be felt but be put somewhere. Instead of filing them away in your brain that might already feel oversaturated with information and tasks, put those feelings into your art. Creating gives us the ability to put feelings not only into perspective but into action.
Related: 3 Ways to Unleash Your Creativity
Art as a point of connection
Art also does more than heal us individually — it helps us reflect our emotions and experiences to one another. Think about the last time you saw a truly moving piece of art or heard an emotional song. Did it take you back to a time and place where you felt those same feelings? Did it make you feel not so alone? That is the power of art.
In a world that values progress above all else, we forget our emotions or shove them away to deal with what’s in front of us. We forget what makes us human until we experience something that reminds us. Seeing or creating art that reminds us of our humanity gives us permission to share feelings that may be uncomfortable or ostracizing. While it is your personal choice whether or not to share your art, the pure act of creation can help you feel less alone.
And if you do decide to share that with others, it also gives you the opportunity to find people who are feeling the same, who needed to feel seen. Those connections can heal, and they may even save us in unexpected ways.
The stigmas of mental health and art
The creative path isn’t the easiest to walk down, especially if you’ve been out of touch with your own creativity for a while. We have been taught over and over again that what is socially acceptable is to swallow the feelings that weigh us down the most. This results in the stigma we see around mental health, as well as the discomfort we sense when we try to express the ways we’re struggling.
Art is a way around all that. It’s a way to break those stigmas, express ourselves in a safe way and move our emotions through our bodies. You’ll also find that, by having a creative outlet, you have a tool that helps you address challenges as they come up. With every bit of horrible news I see, I remind myself to take it to the canvas, where I let those emotions move through me and into the paint.
Will every piece of my art see the light of day? No. Does every piece help me heal a bit of myself? Absolutely. Art is a tool more than anything — a way to help us find ourselves and heal.