The Healing Power of Creativity
Written by Pam Heilman, PsyD, LCP
This year has undoubtedly been one of the most stressful, scary, challenging times for many individuals. As a trained psychologist, I frequently discuss the importance of self-care with clients and my colleagues. Self-care refers to any act in which you are taking care of yourself. This can include tending to your basic needs: showering, brushing your teeth, exercising, eating healthy meals, attending therapy, taking medication as prescribed, and getting regular physicals. Self-care also consists of engaging in activities that bring you relaxation or joy: meditation, spending time in nature, taking a hot bath, having a spa day, listening to music or podcasts, singing, or snuggling with your pet.
One aspect of self-care I regularly explore with clients is engaging in creativity. Have you ever found yourself so interested or engrossed in a particular activity that you lost track of time and became extremely focused on the task at hand? This is what Mihaly Csikszentamihalyi, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, would refer to as “flow” in his 1990 book, Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience.
As Csikzentamihalyi described it, flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost for the sheer sake of doing it.” Many people refer to this as being “in the zone” which happens when there is a balance between challenge and skill level. So, what are some of the reasons that flow might be so helpful? According to Arne Dietrich (2004), flow has been associated with decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex (in Oppland, 2020). This is the area of the brain that is responsible for executive function, or organization of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals. As Dietrich (2004) suggests, this temporary inactivation may trigger feelings of distortion of time and loss of self-consciousness (in Oppland, 2020).
Perhaps the idea of flow has been catching on in more recent years. Many local businesses such as Pinot’s Palette, Chilled Palette, Bleu Palette, Board and Brush, Arts on Fire, and Color Me Mine have become popular for gathering with friends or for a date night. Businesses like these offer workshops where you can learn how to paint on a canvas, paint pottery, or even stain and paint a bench or wooden sign to decorate your home.
As a psychologist I like to practice what I preach. I had my first experience with painting acrylic on canvas several years ago with a group of friends at Pinot’s Palette. I was surprised by the amount of joy I experienced that night. Ever since then, I began attending more workshops and tried different types of projects. During the quarantine, I stocked up on painting supplies (acrylic paints, canvases, an easel, and brushes) from Michael’s. I began trying to set aside time every week to paint something new. In spite of the increased stressors during this difficult time, I have found my painting to be an amazing source of comfort and pride. I’m working on my skill level but what is more important to me is that I can create something with a blank canvas and just a few tools. I make myself a nice cup of coffee, put on some of my favorite music, have my basset hound close by, and I am content.
My hope is that I can help my clients to find something that gives them a sense of passion or purpose to help them get into their “flow” state of mind. It doesn’t have to involve creating art. This can be anything that you are so interested in that you are able to focus solely on the task and lose yourself in the moment. Think writing, playing an instrument, gardening, yoga, working with tools, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, doing crossword puzzles or sudoku. Feel free to try different things to see what you like. It took me quite some time to stumble upon painting but I am so glad I was willing to try different activities to get there. I’d like to share some of the artwork I have done in recent months. These pieces are filled with imperfections but they are mine and I am proud of them.
“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.” ~ Dieter F. Uchtdorf
If you'd like to schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians call (630) 570-0050 or email Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
For more blogs on self-care written by OakHeart clinicians, read Surviving Social Distancing or Practice Self-Care.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990
Oppland, M. (2020, January 9). 8 Ways to Create Flow according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Positive Psychology.com. Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/