Calling all knitters, bakers and candlestick mak…you get the idea. It’s official. Being creative can improve your mood and positive mental wellbeing. According to countless scientific studies that highlight the links between creative pursuits – from knitting to gardening – and their positive impact on our moods and behaviour, there’s never been a better time to pick up a crochet hook or enrol on that ceramics course.
In 2014 a study by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro concluded that “happiness and creativity go hand in hand”. A group of 79 young adults were observed using automated mobile phone surveys. “People reported doing something creative around 20 percent of the time, and those who generally reported feeling happy and active were much more likely to be doing something creative in a given moment, such as making up their own recipes, writing, playing music or drawing.”
Meanwhile in this study researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that ‘‘engaging in small daily acts of creativity may influence overall well-being rather than simply making us feel good in the moment.”
In fact, the evidence is so compelling that in some cases, creative therapies are even being prescribed as alternatives to traditional treatments. Sound good? Read on to discover more…
Write your ‘Morning Pages’
While creative writing has been linked to physical healing, it may have similar benefits for the mind. Try this simple exercise made popular by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way. As the name suggests, every morning when you wake up take a notepad and write 3 sheets of A4, longhand, to help clear your mind and reset your focus for the day ahead. It doesn’t matter what you write, nobody else will see it, only that you keep going until 3 full sides are complete. While Cameron herself encourages a handwritten approach, it was only a matter of time before somebody took this online – see 750 Words for a version of Morning Pages for the digital generation.
Try some art therapy
You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy the benefits of art therapy. It’s the process, not the masterpiece that matters. Recent studies show that becoming absorbed in artistic pursuits − think colouring, painting or sculpting − can help distract the mind from negative thought patterns, something researchers are calling ‘mood repair’. Pick your palette according to some basic colour psychology and you could double the therapeutic powers of your art class − pink is widely thought to have a calming effect, while shades of green inspire creativity.
Curl up with some craft
Autumn is the best time to get cosy with a new craft project, and research shows it’s valuable for your wellbeing too. Oxford University is even running The Yarnfulness Project − an exploration into the wellbeing benefits of making − while 92% of respondents in a survey by Knit for Peace said knitting improved their mood. But it’s not just traditional handicrafts that count. Step outside to forage for natural craft materials – dried leaves, seeds and foliage – with which to get creative. Combined with the proven positive effects of being in nature (more of which below), natural craft projects may prove to be the ultimate mood enhancer.
Get your hands dirty
When stress levels are skyrocketing our Ethnobotanist James Wong heads outside. “Digging the earth helps me escape my mounting to-do list and never fails to reset my perspective.” It’s an idea seconded by organisations like Sydenham Garden, a unique horticultural wellbeing centre in South East London that uses its gardens and nature reserve to help people recover from both mental and physical ill-health. Gardening also doubles as great physical exercise, encouraging mood-enhancing endorphins while the 'biophilia’ effect – our human genetic response to 'greenness’ and feeling at one in nature – cements gardening’s good vibes further.
Bake yourself happy
The Depressed Cake Shop™ may sound like a contradiction, but it’s anything but. Founded in 2013 by Emma Thomas, a creative director and PR specialist, it raises awareness (and funds) for mental health issues through a series of unique baking pop ups, but the brief is specific − cakes must be grey on the outside, yet brightly coloured on the inside, to symbolise hope. Meanwhile professional cooks like John Whaite, a previous winner of The Great British Bake Off who has struggled with bouts of depression from a young age, have gone on record to talk about baking’s ability to improve their headspace. It’s slowly being recognised in scientific circles too. In this 2016 study researchers found that “doing small, everyday things like cooking and baking made the group feel more enthusiastic about their pursuits the next day.”