Ask the Experts by Asha Shajahan, MD, MHSA
Q: Is engaging in creativity and art a good treatment for anxiety and depression?
A: Participating in creative art can reduce anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue and improve the perceived quality of life. These therapies include music, dance, movement-based expression (such as acting), visual art, and creating art.
You may wonder how? These creative expressions influence the neurotransmitters of the brain- specifically norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. Norepinephrine awakens the brain and enhances self-esteem. Dopamine improves mood, motivation and the sense of wellness, addiction management and the attention system of the brain. Serotonin combats sadness and impulse control.
By participating in creative activities, you can naturally boost these neurotransmitters. According to a study in Psychosomatic Medicine by Michael A. Babyak from Duke University, pulse-bounding exercise two days a week for 30 minutes is a good treatment for depression. The study showed that it was as effective as taking an antidepressant because it naturally boosts the immune system and the benefits lasts longer.
Think about enrolling in a dance class for exercise. The added benefit of music and movement can boost your neurotransmitter and exercise not only your body but your entire brain. When you are making plans for the weekend, think about joining an art class, going to a live concert or a museum. Pick up a coloring book from a bookstore. If you used to play an instrument, consider playing again. If you never played one, maybe it’s time to take those guitar lessons you have always wanted to take. It’s never too late to engage in creativity and you don’t have to be an artist to reap the benefits of art for your health.
If you want to learn more about creative expression and how it can help benefit your help particularly for anxiety and depression- read the Creativity Cure by Dr. Carrie Barron. Also visit the Foundation for Art and Healing (artandhealing.org) to learn about more ways you can naturally enhance your health.
Asha Shajahan is a board-certified family physician. She is an assistant professor in the department of family medicine and biomedical sciences at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and serves as the medical director of community health for the Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, MI.