The past two years have been incredibly stressful. So, you’d be forgiven if taking up an artistic hobby hasn’t been at the top of your priority list.
However, art has the potential to help you work through life’s problems, and taking up an artistic hobby can help you destress and relax after a long day at work.
Guest post by Katie Brenneman
Art can also help you rediscover your identity, which may be particularly important if your life was turned upside down during the pandemic.
So, here’s a deeper dive into how artistic hobbies can improve your mental health, and a few artistic mediums that may promote your mental well-being.
Creativity and Mental Health
When you think of an artist, you probably imagine someone like Dali or Van Gogh — hardly models of great mental health. But, in reality, art and creativity improve mental states and help you develop cognitive skills. That’s because art requires divergent thinking, which means that you have to think outside of the box to find solutions to your artistic problems.
Practicing art is also an important part of later life. Research shows that practicing art can help fight off issues that older folks may face like depression and dementia. That’s because art provides a platform for expression, which may help with things like improving self-esteem while providing cognitive stimulation.
Art’s therapeutic qualities may not come as a massive surprise to you. After all, many hospitals and therapists already treat people with recreational therapy. Recreational therapy can involve any form of artistic medium and may improve your self-esteem and strengthen social connections. Recreational therapy also allows you to work through bouts of anxiety, as practicing art can provide a distraction and help you refocus on other elements of your life.
However, practicing art can feel pressured sometimes — what if you’re not good? What if other people are much better? Well, in all likelihood, you won’t be that good at your chosen art at first, but that’s the point. Art gives you room to grow and rewards your effort with skill development and a greater appreciation for those who are at the top of their field. The key is to get stuck in and start making productive mistakes. Only then you’ll progress from drawing a horse to sketching a realistic portrait.
Drawing and Painting
People have been drawing and painting for thousands of years. Archeologists recently discovered cave art from 45,000 years ago, and drawing and painting have been popular mediums ever since.
However, you may find drawing and painting frustrating. This is understandable, as some people do seem to have a natural talent for drawing images or painting scenes — b you must remember that, like any visual art, drawing and painting are skills that take time to develop. The key is to keep your expectations low at first and work with materials that suit you best while you grow as an artist.
You can start painting to improve your mental health by learning how to mix and use colors effectively. Try producing abstract, color-oriented art that reflects your mood or an emotion that you wish to capture. This might mean that you spend an entire day painting Rothko-like canvases in different shades of yellow without any real form or definitive shape.
Drawing can be extremely helpful if you suffer from anxiety. Drawing for anxiety has been shown to reduce stress, boost mindfulness, and interrupt overwhelming negative emotions. However, it can take a lifetime to develop the skills needed to produce realistic sketches, so be gentle with yourself and start by following guided tutorials on YouTube. These will give you the skills you need to start producing your own work and will help give you direction as a budding artist.
Film and Photography
Film and photography have dominated the art scene in the 21st century — and for good reason. Capturing life through a lens allows you to see the world in new and interesting ways, and taking pictures often forces you to go outside even when you don’t feel like it. For these reasons, film and photography are perfect for self-care and your mental wellbeing.
You can get started in film and photography for self-care by slowing down and using your phone for photography. Turn off notifications while you’re taking pictures, and focus on framing your shots. Pay attention to the way that light is impacting the image, and look for lines that draw towards the horizon. By slowing down, you will make photography into a kind of meditative practice that improves your mental health and helps you see life through more positive eyes.
Writing and Poetry
As an artistic medium, writing allows you to consciously explore your emotions, memories, thoughts, and feelings. This sounds somewhat obvious, but how often do you find yourself frustrated at the end of the day without really knowing why? Chances are, a short journal session could help you work through the challenges you’ve been facing and find a sense of peace.
Journaling is a great, low-stakes way to start writing. The key is to find a consistent time of day that works for you and start with easy prompts. This might be as simple as answering questions like “what happened yesterday?” or “what are your intentions for the day?” As you strengthen your journaling habit, feel free to add more creative freedom to your practice and consider any questions that feel meaningful to you.
Poetry can be a wonderful form of artistic expression. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to follow any particular form or rhyme scheme to get started. It’s perfectly acceptable to write free-form poetry that follows no reason other than your own cognitive flow. If you do want some structure, consider simpler poetic forms like haiku, sonnets, or acrostic. These forms still require a little forethought and revision, but allow you to focus more on your thoughts and feelings rather than structural requirements.
When you think of artistic practices, you probably forget that your body qualifies as a medium for expression. Physical practices like dance and yoga are wonderful for your mental health and have the added benefit of improving your physical health, too.
Starting to dance might feel a little silly at first. But remember, you’re not dancing for an audience. Instead, you’re dancing to engage with your body and do something that helps your mental health. You might consider starting with simple YouTube dance lessons then, if you enjoy them, you can join an adult dance school. Most dance schools have plenty of programs for beginners and will be happy to have you regardless of your physical ability.
If dance isn’t your thing, you can still find joy in physical expression through other avenues like sports and martial arts. You may not have realized it before, but sports like tennis, skiing, and soccer have an artistic flair to them. These sports also allow you to express yourself while you develop skills that improve your physical and mental wellbeing. As ever, the best route is to join a club or pay for some instruction. Once you’ve got a handle on the basics, you can start to find real artistic expression through sports and will reap the benefits of physical activity and mental creativity.
Artistic hobbies play a vital role in everyone’s mental health. Whether you’re doodling on napkins or dancing on stage, investing your time and energy into an art form is a sure-fire way put your mental health first and see life’s silver linings. If you’re unsure of how to start, take a look on YouTube for instructional courses and consider enrolling in beginner’s classes to learn the basics.