This blog post was written by Kristen Peairs, Nutritionist and Meditation Facilitator at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.
How do creativity and mental health relate to each other? Are creativity and wellness linked? Why are some people more creative than others? When it comes to creativity, mental health, and wellness, there is a lot of information available. Let’s start by exploring what creativity is.
What is Creativity?
After reading through countless explanations of creativity, I believe that creativity can be summed up as “the use of imagination or ideas to produce something that is original and useful.” The “something” might be a painting or other artistic work, but it can just as easily be an idea, a science experiment, a dance, a hairstyle, a driving route, or an infinite number of other results. While I frequently hear people saying, “Oh, I’m not creative,” I know this is not true. Creativity is an inherent human skill. Everything from how we wear our clothes to how we manage our finances can be perceived as demonstrations of our creativity. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are always exercising our creative prowess; some of us have just practiced more than others.
Our Brains and Creativity
In the book, Wired to Create, authors Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire share that the whole brain is involved in the creative process. The old saying that creative people are right-brained is simply not true.
Interactions between the conscious and unconscious plays roles in creativity, as well as thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In the brain of a person who is perceived as creative, there tends to be a large amount of flexibility in how various neural networks activate and deactivate. There is an ability to shift between brain areas that might, to the casual observer, seem like conflicting channels of thinking. The thoughts and actions that result from these connections are often what we recognize as creativity.
Conscious and Unconscious Creativity
Conscious creativity is when we apply our pre-existing knowledge to manifest a unique result. We can see conscious creativity when an artist uses their knowledge of color to combine several paints to make a custom shade. Alternatively, we can experience our own conscious creativity when we’re formulating our monthly budget to meet both our financial parameters and our specific desires. In these examples, pre-existing knowledge is being implemented to come up with results that uniquely fit the goals.
Unconscious creativity comes from thinking less rather than more. When we let our minds relax, different areas of our brains activate, deactivate, and/or connect to pave the way for new inspiration and ideas to arise. Practices such as daydreaming, meditation, doodling, and walking in nature can all be supportive for increasing unconscious creativity. If you’ve ever experienced going to bed thinking about how to solve a problem and then waking up with the problem’s solution in mind, unconscious creativity may have been the reason. The key to tapping into unconscious creativity is to learn how to help our mind relax while staying aware enough to connect with the inspiration when it arrives.
Is There a Link Between Creativity and Mental Health?
When it comes to creativity and mental health, many people ask, “Is there a link between creativity and mental health?” The answer is yes, creativity and mental health are related. Art therapy is an entire field of study that focuses on using creative expression to support mental health. The United States government, hospitals, nursing homes, and individual communities regularly sponsor and utilize art therapy programs to support healing from trauma, physical injury, mental health concerns, and more.
Art, and the creativity that fuels it, can help us connect to pieces of ourselves (the sad, the angry, the anxious, the traumatized, the ashamed, the rebellious) that we might not know how to, or be able to, connect to in any other way. Regardless of the form, creating art can help us access elusive feelings we crave. Whether those feelings are connection, peace, meaning, understanding, satisfaction, happiness, freedom or something else, experimenting with new ways to access them is, in itself, an act of creative exploration.
Using creative processes to understand and release my own feelings has brought me an amazing amount of joy. I used to experience a nearly constant state of overwhelm. Focusing was hard and getting anything done was challenging. One day, I had the idea to draw the overwhelm and within the space of an hour, my mind cleared, and my mood lightened. It was wonderful. Since that time, I’ve refined and expanded my drawing practice and not only has my mental health improved, but a new career path has opened up as well.
Mental Health Benefits of Creativity
- Healing and Relief
If we look back in history, there are countless examples of creativity born out of pain, illness, and trauma. From artists such as Frida Kahlo to musicians such as Ludwig van Beethoven, creators have long used their art as a means to navigate through challenging circumstances. When we allow it, creativity moves us. It helps us build bridges to experiencing goodness even while in the midst of suffering.
- Positive feelings
When we are exercising our creativity, we are more likely to gain access into flow. Flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and do our best. Even without being in flow, we can experience feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, connection, joy, and understanding from following the arc of our creativity.
Creating can enhance our sense of purpose and increased purpose is linked with better mental health. Whether we are creating for ourselves or others, we are using our unique resources to produce something that no one else can do like we can. Purpose links us to goals and life experiences that are bigger than ourselves. Creativity and how we express it can help us connect to and walk our purposeful path.
Ways to Grow Your Creativity
Creativity can be cultivated. Like with most things in life, getting better takes attention and practice. Below are a few ideas for ways you can grow your creativity.
- Be Open
Research has consistently shown that creativity flourishes best in environments where personal openness is present. The more willing we are to explore the depth and breadth of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, the more practice our brains receive at being resilient, flexible, and creative in their ability to respond to life’s stimuli.
Choosing to release directed thinking and task-based activity lets the mind wander. During the wandering process, new creativity-supporting connections within the brain have the chance to occur.
- Go Outside
Nature is infinitely creative. Nature can enhance creativity. No two blades of grass, leaves, or flowers are ever identical. Spend time outside and just breathe. Choose to hear, see, smell, and touch. Practice being open to the experience of being in nature and let nature inspire your next step.
What’s your next step in growing your creativity?
By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take the place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.