Taking part in creative activities is a great for our overall well-being. Research has found that expressing ourselves creatively helps us sort through our thoughts and feelings, allows us to make something positive out of difficult experiences (such as depression), and makes us more resilient.
We are all creative
If you don’t identify as a ‘creative person’, it’s easy to disregard creative activities as something for ‘other people’. But the truth is, you’re a lot more creative than you think you are. All of us our born creative, it’s just as we grow up we express that creativity differently.
‘Being creative’ doesn’t just mean being ‘good at art’. In fact, there are many definitions of creativity, most of which focus on the ability to ‘come up with new ideas, make links between ideas, and make novel solutions to problems‘. That means solving a crossword puzzle is just as legitimate a creative activity as painting a portrait.
If you’d like to engage in more creative activities there are a lot of options to choose from. We asked our community how they like to express their creativity, and how this impacts on their depression. We’ve shared a summary of their responses below – we hope they will inspire you.
“I do colouring. It’s great. Not just the actual activity itself but the gorgeous colours I get to use and the process of choosing the right ones. It also makes me very happy to buy new products. Plus I get pleasure looking at other peoples’ work on Facebook pages and other forums I’m in” – Sophie
Adult colouring is hugely popular at the moment, and with good reason. It offers the creative and calming benefits of making a beautiful piece of art, without the need for drawing skills.
There are hundreds of adult colouring books on the market to choose from. Mille Marotta books seemed particularly popular in our group. You might also choose a book that combines colouring with inspiration quotes and mindfulness advice. For an extra challenge, there are also books that combine colouring with word-searches.
Paint-by-numbers is a good colouring alternative, especially if decision-making stresses you out (the colours are chosen for you!). We like the look of this ‘puzzling’ book, and these gorgeous animal doodles.
**Note: at the time of writing, we are selling a lovely Elizabeth James colouring book in our shop at a hugely discounted price**
“I love writing my blog about depression and anxiety and my life because it’s cathartic and helps stop the thoughts from becoming overwhelming and gives me perspective. I also write to my partner’s 90 year old gran for the care home staff to read to her (she’s almost blind) and that helps me as I am helping others” – Jo
We’ve talked before about how writing can help with depression, and indeed many of our community find it useful.
Whether journalling, blogging, writing poetry or ‘brain dumps’, all forms of writing offer a way to express and explore pent-up feelings, and use your mind creatively.
“My great love is making patchwork quilts… The gentle rythmic motion of hand quilting is almost hypnotic and helps calm my over-active and anxious mind. When depression is bad and I can’t summon up the mental effort to start a new project, I knit. I have a number of simple but nice patterns which I make for very premmie babies . Making things sometimes makes me feel just a tiny bit less useless and is part of the ‘doing something you enjoy each day’ strategy” – Anne
“Counting stitches focuses me on the here and now instead of wallowing in the past or fretting about the future” – Tracy
“I really love to cook when I’m feeling rubbish – it’s physical and practical and gives me a real sense of satisfaction. At the end of it I have made something with my own hands that other people will (hopefully) enjoy. It makes my existence seem useful when I don’t believe it is”
Who would have thought that something many of us do everyday is actually a creative task? Yet the act of cooking – the alchemy of turning base ingredients into something delicious to be shared or enjoyed – does indeed use your brain in a creative way.
Many find the physical act of cooking – weighing out ingredients, chopping, mixing, etc – soothing and calming. Plus the end results stimulate the senses: touch, smell, and of course taste!
“I’m currently doing a jigsaw. My mum bought one as she thought it would help, I was sceptical as my concentration levels are so low…3 days on I have spent hours each day doing it and nearly finished. It’s helping me relax and bringing my concentration levels up” – Laura
Puzzles might not be something you’d typically consider as a creative activity, but problem solving is a creative act.
“I’ve been doing a lot of watercolour painting, and it’s helped me so much. I get lost in it and I get quite a lot of satisfaction from it when I’m finished and see what I’ve done” – Carys
Visual arts like drawing, painting and collage can all be extremely therapeutic. Admittedly, they can feel intimidating to start with – especially if you’re a beginner – but if you’re able to ‘let go’ and get absorbed in your art the process of making it can be very positive. It can also help you express your feelings.
“I paint… I feel as if that’s the only way I can clearly communicate how I’m feeling. It stops me ruminating on the bad days” – Lisa
You don’t need to get straight in with oil paints. If you’re new to visual art, allow yourself just to experiment with what ever pens or pencils you have lying around, or try something like Zentagle. Doodling, photography (on your phone counts!) or even playing with make-up are also artistic pursuits.
HOME & GARDEN
“Decorating the home is the best therapy I’ve had for a long time… being able to just sit down with a paint brush and make it my own is the most proud moment I have had in months” – Krissi
Making alterations to your environment – be it through decorating, upcycling furniture, or simply just moving things around – is a creative act that can have a profound affect on your mood.
Similar benefits can also be enjoyed by working on your environment outside. Gardening is extremely popular in our community, the combination of fresh air, exercise and seeing the results of your efforts can be very uplifting.
“I love to prune shrubs in mine or anyone else’s garden is fine. I like to shape them to look lovely and tidy. I find it calming” – Harriet
MUSIC & MOVEMENT
“My best thing is playing the piano – I started having lessons. I feel as if I am learning and developing, which in turn gives me a sense of purpose and worth while I’ve not had a job” – Jane
Music is another creative outlet that boosts your mood. If you don’t play an instrument (and aren’t called to learn one), you can always sing: you don’t have to have pipes like Adele to enjoy it, and you can always do it secretly in the car!
“Singing makes you feel good, warms up some muscles, a good tune can seriously cheer you up and plus, it’s been proven to prolong your life! If you’re not satisfied with singing along to tunes, there’s a karaoke app called Sing! that’s awesome! ” – Chloe
Moving your body is another great way to express yourself, while getting the endorphins pumping.
“I love dancing around my kitchen!” – Jane
As well as various forms of dance, you can try a physical skill like hula-hooping or juggling – acts like these require focus and are great for concentration.
Creativity & Depression: Final thoughts
Although being creative can help ease the symptoms of depression, it must be noted that depression can impact on our creativity. Poor concentration, low confidence, or lack of energy or motivation can all affect our ability to undertake or complete creative tasks. If that happens to you, try not to get frustrated with yourself: it’s depression’s fault!
Equally, if a creative activity leaves you feeling stressed, or angry, or upset, it’s probably not the right one for you right now. Try something else, or give yourself a break: you don’t need further negative feelings.
If the results of your creative activity are not as you would like (perfectionists take note!), be kind to yourself. With creativity, it’s the process that’s important, rather than the end product. And whatever you end up creating, don’t forget to congratulate yourself on making the effort to do something new.