The healing power of creativity: how artistic expression can support mental health

GUEST COLUMN

By Nina Sumsy

If you’re already planning our activities for the summer and this year, you want to make it all about boosting your mental health, then make it a point to visit Orange County’s Festival of Arts Fine Art Show, the Laguna Art-A-Fair, and the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival. These events not only highlight the talent of local artists but also invite you to take part in a wide array of creative pursuits—everything from sculpture to jewelry making, photography, and painting. They are by no means aimed at seasoned artists alone; instead, there are workshops and guided events for all levels, meaning that your whole family can enjoy a fulfilling day out while battling stress and taking advantage of the many mental health benefits that art can offer.

Art Activates Reward Pathways

A study published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy has found that coloring, doodling, and free drawing can activate reward pathways in the brain by engaging the frontal lobe, which is involved in learning and processing. Art additionally engages the default mode network (DMN), which is linked to self-awareness, compassion, and emotion. The DMN releases “feel-good hormones” like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, which explains why people can feel a sense of happiness and accomplishment after engaging in artistic endeavors. What’s more, the beneficial effects of art are not limited to professional artists or those who have always engaged in creative pursuits. Even absolute beginners can experience a big drop in stress hormones, meaning that art has therapeutic effects on everyone.

Art and Anxiety

As artificial intelligence systems become increasingly advanced, many people are experiencing greater anxiety, as they wonder if their jobs will be completely taken over by AI systems. You may wonder if you live in a location that is vulnerable to AI job takeovers. Research shows that the state of California isn’t one of the most at-risk states. However, you may have noticed how, in your or your friends’ current jobs, teams are being reduced or tasks significantly altered by AI. If so, art can help appease your anxiety, and you don’t have to learn to draw, sculpt, or perform difficult or technical tasks. In fact, one study published in the journal Art Therapy showed that simply coloring mandalas reduces anxiety. Mandala picture books and free materials abound online and their popularity can be attributed to their ability to induce a state of mindful focus. Mandalas comprise various complex geometric patterns, which require more concentration than standard coloring imagery.

Art Is a Powerful Stress Buster

People in Orange County and beyond are experiencing high levels of stress, with data obtained from OC respondents showing that 45.8% of residents live in constant stress and 44% feel that they need a better-paying job. Stress and financial situations are, indeed, strongly interrelated, since financial insecurity is one of the biggest sources of stress. Another study published in Art Therapy found that making art for around 45 minutes reduced cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Participants in the study said they found artistic creation to be relaxing, fun, and helpful when it comes to learning more about themselves. Art is free from constraints, it enables creators to face their struggles and come to a resolution, and enhances their ability to get into the flow and lose themselves in creativity after a hard day at work. Many participants enjoyed the experiment to such an extent that they expressed a wish to continue being creative in the future.

Art Helps in Mood Repair

One study showed that artistic creation can have a bolstering effect on mood. In the study, the researchers induced a sad state in 40 participants, and then assigned them to either a drawing or writing activity. They found that moods were significantly more positive after drawing than writing, though both activities were more effective than just “venting.”

Creating art has been found in numerous studies to help boost mental health. Art stimulates reward pathways and helps curb stress and anxiety. It is also an excellent way to bolster one’s mood when one is feeling low. Orange County offers a host of opportunities for those who are new to the art game. If you live in the area or you’ll be around in the summer, don’t miss out on its many art fairs and get fully involved in creating a few beautiful pieces of your own.


Nina C. Sumner is a freelance writer with a background in journalism and a knack for turning complex ideas into enjoyable reads. She’s constantly looking to broaden her reach and contribute to platforms in various niches. When she’s not working on her writing projects, she likes to explore seaside towns and enjoy the company of her family and friends. She can be reached at nina.sumner@mentmail.com.

Guest columns are solely the writer’s opinion on a subject or subjects. The opinions expressed in a guest column are not the position of The Local Reporter, but rather the position of a writer who has taken the time to write out their views or concerns before submitting them to us.

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1 Comment on "The healing power of creativity: how artistic expression can support mental health"

  1. These events are in Orange County, CA.

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