Does it seem to you that ‘feeling stressed’ is the standard nowadays? You’re not wrong! According to the American Institute of Stress, thirty-nine percent of Millennials say their stress has increased in the last year. Trying to find balance in life can be difficult, but a recent study suggests that creating art may be an effective way to reduce these stress levels. Read along and find more about how to prevent and manage stress in a creative way!
In 2016, researchers from Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions in Philadelphia, PA, found that creating art can significantly reduce cortisol levels in the body.
Their initial hypothesis stood on two ideas: that prior experience in creating art might increase the body’s stress-reducing response; and that the type of material used by participants could affect the end result. They concluded that regardless of the person’s artistic skill, everyone seems to benefit equally from art-making.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is one of the steroid hormones made in the adrenal glands. It affects many different functions in the body, as it can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. It also has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure.
It is commonly named the “stress hormone” because of its connection to the stress response, as its levels increase in response to stress. Therefore, the higher the person’s cortisol levels, the more stressed they will be.
All these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect our overall health and well-being!
Published in the journal of Art Therapy, the research titled “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making”, by Girija Kaimal, and her co-authors Kendra Ray, and Juan Muniz, examines the impact of visual art-making on the cortisol values of 39 healthy adults.
Without any specific directions, participants had a range of materials available like markers, paper, modeling clay, and collage materials to create anything they desired.
Through saliva samples collected before and after the creative session, researchers were able to measure the stress levels of each participant.
After the session, participants provided written responses about the experience and how they felt about creating art. They reflected on the relaxation they achieved and the enjoyable, helpful, and free from constraints session, “an evolving process of initial struggle to later resolution, and about flow/losing themselves in the work.” They also reflected that the experience evoked a desire to make art in the future.
Results and future research
Results indicate that art-making resulted in a statistically significant lowering of cortisol levels. Specifically, researchers found that 75 percent of the participants’ cortisol levels lowered during their 45 minutes of art-making. Even though there was some variation in how much the levels decreased in each participant, the experts observed no correlation between past art experiences and lower levels of cortisol.
Kaimal now plans to extend her study to explore if “creative self- expression in a therapeutic environment can help reduce stress,” where she intends to include the measuring of other biomarkers apart from cortisol.
The study did find a weak correlation between age and lower cortisol levels after the art-making, and now Kaimal is interested in exploring how high-school and college students deal with stress that comes from academia and, of course, the way creative arts can help.
More reasons to start painting!
We knew it! And now this scientific research supports our hypothesis that a stick figure drawer can become a cortisol-balance-machine in no time!
Ask yourself now, ‘Do I overthink about my job when going to bed?’ ‘Do I feel discouraged in the morning?’, ‘Do I lose focus regularly during the day?’.
It’s time to take a break! Just get a piece of paper, start letting flow happen, and begin that stress lowering right away.