“I can’t believe how quiet the children were!” – the feedback I got after teaching Cartoon Club at The Yard Market. I hear this comment so often. And it’s not just when teaching children, it happens in my adult colouring classes too. We all start out chatty and by the end, everyone is quiet, focused and working. Why does this happen? Why do I feel so much more relaxed after doodling, colouring or journaling? Hmm…? There’s a very interesting study published on Taylor and Francis called “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making”. It shows how being creative can have some significant positive health benefits.
Researchers gave 40 people art materials and let them create anything they wanted over a defined period of time and measured their stress response. Changes in participants’ pre art test and post art test stress levels were measured via salivary cortisol. Cortisol levels ranged from 32.40 ng/ml to 5.05 ng/ml at pretest and from 25.00 ng/ml to 5.01 ng/ml at post art test. Approximately 75% of the people experienced a decrease in overall stress response. Cortisol levels stayed unchanged or were elevated for about 25%. I wonder what would happen if the participants were given something other than a blank page? Would it be more relaxing and what would happen to those 25%?
At any rate, for me, I better get my pencils out! Creativity has the ability to make me more mindful. When I’m worried about an illustration I need to do for my colouring book, I find if I just start doodling something, it starts my imagination going and I start seeing how I can do it. Creativity gives me focus. I feel myself slow down and relax. You might think that this would make for less productivity but oddly I find the opposite – I become more productive. I feel that, when the stress goes, my work comes out.
This stress study goes on to make an analogy with physical exercise: “Just like physical exercise, creative stimulation engages and focuses our minds on the task at hand — and distracts us from feelings of stress and anxiety. When you create, you invoke your imagination, which is a productive and constructive use of your mind. By focusing intensely on a creative task, you can achieve the state of “flow,” the term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and which is typically defined as the optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”
Here’s the link to the article if you would like to read more.