How Art Can Heal Mental Illness*
By Go Paolo
Merriam-Webster defines art as “the use of skill and creative imagination in creating aesthetic objects such as paintings, music, and sculptures.”
But that is a superficial definition. Art goes beyond definitions but is what enriches life and touches each of us as individuals. The rapid growths of technology and secularism have not deterred the importance of art but have made it more valuable as more people face stress and mental illness and are in need of the healing power of art:
How art helps heal mental illness:
A comprehensive study was done to prove the many benefits of the various forms of art on patients. Art forms such as music, visual arts, dance, and creative writing were used and produced encouraging results.
Reduces anxiety and stress
Music is one of the most powerful and moving art forms that even the great nihilist himself, Friedrich Nietzsche recognized its value. Listening to music was found not only to reduce stress but also anxiety. Noticeable improvements were made to patients’ well-being and relaxation and reductions in tension, cortisol levels, and heart rate. Making art also has similar effects as another
Making art also has similar effects as another study highlighted. This wasn’t limited to individuals who were excellent artists and the majority of the subjects admitted to having little experience when it came to any form of art. It harkens back to what Aristotle said that art isn’t about the outward appearance but the inward experience. Art is human expression and it’s now medically proven (to a degree) that it has health benefits.
Helps you focus on positive life experiences
Another study was conducted this time on the effects of visual art and it showed how patients; pain tolerance and threshold both increased when exposed to visual stimuli (and music). The study was inspired to help patients deal with the intimidating surroundings of a hospital.
Creating and being exposed to art helps generate positive thoughts. The American Journal of Public Health’s study described the impact of visual art on its patients as “filling occupational voids and distracting thoughts of illness” and “improving flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks.” A study from the University of North Carolina adds to this point emphasizing the healing power of positive emotions and how it forms and strengthens personal relationships and gives individuals more motivation to live.
Helps the body heal and stay healthy
A healthy body leads to a healthy mind – particularly your gut. Eating healthy, sleeping well, and doing physical exercises or yoga all contribute to a healthy bod. But you can also add experiencing magnificent visual imagery through art and nature to this list. A study from the University of California, Berkeley links this experience to boosting the immune system thus lowering chances of diabetes, heart attacks, and other illnesses, which may include mental illnesses.
Dr. Dacher Keitner of the university said, “the beauty promotes healthier levels of cytokines suggests the things people do to experience these emotions – walking in nature, losing oneself to music, beholding art – all have direct inlfuence upon health and life expectancy.”