The Benefits of Creating Artwork… It’s More than Just a Pretty Picture!

Each month, we honor an artist from our Art Showcase in our Artist of the Month series.  But have you taken a moment to look through the Art Showcase to see what you’ll find? In addition to a wide variety of beautiful pieces of art, you’ll find personal stories written by the artists. These stories add a whole new dimension to the artwork, allowing you to read about the artist and learn what inspires him or her to create.

In looking through these stories, you’ll find one common theme: In addition to creating a piece of art, the act of doing the art is extremely therapeutic – and this is true whether drawing or painting, as well as crafting, knitting, or throwing a clay pot on a pottery wheel. It often changes one’s outlook and gives individuals a new purpose in life.

These positive effects are exciting to hear and are certainly not limited to MSAA’s Art Showcase! The entire field of art therapy is based on the benefits derived from the creative process and the resulting artwork, and these advantages may be experienced by children, adults of any age, healthy individuals, and individuals with physical, emotional, or psychological challenges.

Numerous studies have been conducted with healthy individuals as well as those with various conditions to examine the positive effects of creating artwork. One small study found that the women with MS who participated in a creative art program experienced significant increases in self-esteem, social support, and self-efficacy to function with MS (self-efficacy is the ability we believe we have to meet challenges and achieve goals). The study also saw a strong effect on hope. The authors concluded that creative art has the potential to enhance the lives of those living with MS.

Another small study conducted in Ireland found that the group of adults with MS who participated in creative classes experienced deep immersion in their artwork, offering respite from worry about their illness. The art-making processes and artwork created increased emotional wellbeing and promoted self-worth, while attending the classes provided an opportunity for social camaraderie and learning. Artwork even helped to support their identity and to accommodate functional losses associated with MS. Participants expressed the feeling that art was “opening new doors” for them.

The American Art Therapy Association at arttherapy.org explains that art therapy is a mental health profession in which art therapists use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to help their clients to explore their feelings and reconcile emotional conflicts. Among other benefits, they note that art therapy can help people to foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. Anyone interested in learning about art therapy or locating an art therapist in his or her area may visit this website for more information.

It’s important to note that you do not need to work with an art therapist to enjoy the rewards of creating artwork, nor do you need to be an artist or believe you have any “talent” as an artist. While an art therapist may be very helpful to someone who is experiencing emotional or psychological issues, including depression or anxiety… or to someone recovering from an illness or coping with a medical condition… anyone is free to explore his or her creative side… and discover the positive changes associated with creating his or her own works of art!

Another informative resource on the value of art is the Be Brain Fit website. This site was created by two health professionals and cites many published works relating to the benefits derived through art and the creative process. In this section of their website, they explain that creating art is a very effective way to stimulate the brain and that anyone can do it. To follow are a few points from Be Brain Fit, all supporting the positive effects of artwork.

Art relieves stress by enabling you to become totally immersed and providing a distraction for your mind. As you concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment, it acts like a form of meditation. Many of the new coloring books being marketed to adults were designed with the idea of reducing stress, and have even helped veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Art uses both sides of your brain, encourages creative thinking, and enhances problem-solving skills. Art is thought to serve as a type of brain exercise and stimulates communication between various parts of the brain, creating new connections between brain cells. It also boosts self-esteem, provides a sense of accomplishment, and can help children to become better students. Art has even been shown to enhance cognitive abilities and memory for people with serious brain disorders, and has been shown to improve memory in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Now that you know some of the exciting benefits that art has to offer, this might be a great time to give art a try! You can start with a pencil and paper, a coloring book and pens, a craft kit from the store, paints and brushes, or a scrapbook and glue… whatever you might find to be interesting and fun. You can even enroll in a local art class. The results will surprise you! And who knows? Maybe the next MSAA Art Showcase will feature one of your works!

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We need a clean-up on aisle 7…

Sometimes it is easy to decide when to let something go. When a child outgrows his/her clothes or toys it may be easy to identify that those items would better serve someone else and then look to donate or trash/recycle the items based on their wear.

Other times it may be much harder to identify what needs to stay and what needs to go such that the clutter and chaos of too many “things” begins to build. It might be the clothes you were hanging onto in case you lost/gained some weight, not knowing which financial statements or receipts are important to hold onto, or it might even be the gifts and knickknacks which looked so cute when they were received but have never found a home on your shelves. For many people it is a combination of different types of clutter which may cause of sense of dread or feeling of being overwhelmed with not knowing how to get started with the clean-up.

Whatever is muddling up your life try the following tips to get started in clearing out the clutter:

1. Create a list. Compartmentalize where the problems lie so you can create a plan of action for how to deal with them.
2. Identify why you have held onto the items. Sometimes items hold sentimental value, monetary value, or serve a specific purpose and must be retained (i.e. tax papers).
3. Decide which task to tackle first and set a timeline.
4. Ask for help (sometimes it takes a helping hand to sort things out).
5. Get to work! Start on your first goal area with a keep, organize/file, and trash/recycle pile.
6. Don’t beat yourself up if the clean-up isn’t happening as quickly as you wanted.

Taking pro-active steps to clear out the clutter can help in the long run to reduce stress levels and help you to live a simpler life.

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Reducing Internal Stressors and the “and, AND, AND” Mentality

Closeup portrait of cute young business woman

Stress is something that everyone confronts in their lives. Stress broadly falls into two categories – external stressors where another person or entity is pushing you harder and asking for more, more, more (more of your time, more of energy both physical and mental, and more than you can handle). I think everyone is familiar with the external stressors- a school deadline, a boss that keeps piling more on your plate, appointments and activities you need to get to…these can all add external stress.

The other lesser acknowledged form of stress stems from internal pressures. Internal stress arises when you place restrictions, parameters, and deadlines on yourself, where you strive harder and work longer and try to be “perfect” or to be everything you think you can and should be for everyone and more.

I’ll give you an example. The schedule says you work from 8-5 and get an hour for lunch, that is the schedule you are paid for BUT the phone is ringing, and a new project is assigned, and the work is piling up (external stressors) so your internal response is to come in a little early and only take 20 minutes for your lunch breaks and maybe on some days you stay a little later too. Before you know it you are working 5-10 additional hours each week. Sure you are getting the work done but you aren’t being compensated extra, and everyone else is taking their lunch breaks.

Sometimes people use internal stressors because they are motivated by something specific (i.e. if my boss sees me accomplishing so much maybe I can earn the promotion, and some day make it to the corner office) or maybe you love your job and are motivated by what you think you can accomplish (i.e. I’m saving the world one day and one life at a time, GO ME!) but whatever the reason at some point those additional self-imposed stressors will catch up to you. And frankly at the end of the day while your boss might acknowledge all of your hard work it is just as likely that they will raise their expectations of you, so that without a big promotion you are stuck doing all the extra work and if you try to cut back on the “extras” your boss may wonder why you can’t accomplish what you used to!

These internal stressors don’t just apply to the workplace, they may cause anxiety over what you need to do-“I’ve got to clean the house before Janice comes over to visit, but when will I have the time and energy.” If Janice is truly a friend she will understand that life got in the way and that your house can’t always be impeccable. Don’t worry, Janice already knows that you are human.

You may be asking why is it important to acknowledge when a stressor is internal or self-imposed and try to reduce those actions or thought patterns. Stress is well known to impact health. Stress has been attributed to developing or exacerbating changes in mood such as increasing worry/anxiety, but stress has also been linked to physical health including affects to sleep, cognition, and increasing levels of burnout/fatigue. On the more severe end of the spectrum, stress has been linked to heart attacks, ulcers, and has also been correlated with MS Relapses among other health issues. So, while you may not be able to stop your boss from dumping 500 projects on your desk or keep your house in a perpetually spotless state, you can put in place an internal protection system: Remind yourself that there will always be work for tomorrow no matter how much work you do today, and that friends, family, and neighbors don’t expect you to be “perfect.” Finally, let yourself know that it is okay to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be your own worst enemy, prioritize your health and try your best to stop or reduce that internal voice saying and, AND, AND.

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