There are no cookie-cutter cure-alls for us as we bounce around our planet bombarded by one ‘challenge’ after another but we are each given a skill to combat those bad boys as they fling Trouble at us from every direction. We all have the ability to think creatively, either out of a situation or into making the best of it.
Healing through creative thinking is a powerful way to find new methods of dealing with everyday life. Creativity is self-expression, discovery, imagination, innovation, lateral thinking and problem solving. When faced with extreme challenges, both emotional and physical, creative thinking can be a compass to guide you through the coping process. All you have to do is be open to it and practice using it.
One aspect of creativity is the ability to appreciate and be comforted by art. Over the past decade, health psychologists have cautiously begun looking at how the arts might be used in a variety of ways to heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of oneself and others, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce symptoms, and alter behaviors and thinking patterns. It can actually have a positive impact on the body and mind. In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health published a review titled, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health. It found that:
- “Art filled occupational voids, distracted thoughts of illness”
- “Improved well–being by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones”
- “Improved medical outcomes, trends toward reduced depression”
- “Reductions in stress and anxiety; increases in positive emotions”
- “Reductions in distress and negative emotions”
- “Improvements in flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks”.
In one study, music was introduced into the private hospital rooms of 45 patients with myocardial infarction. A Holter monitor was attached to each participant, baseline physiological values were obtained, and participants were asked to complete the State Trait Anxiety Inventory. After listening to relaxing music for 20 minutes, participants exhibited significant reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate, myocardial oxygen demand, and, in particular, anxiety, both immediately after and 1 hour after the intervention.
But passive engagement in an artistic experience is not the only way to benefit from creativity. Actively making marks or interventions can give a person power over their situation. In US there are 2.9 million breast cancer survivors, many of whom have had mastectomies. Some choose to have reconstructive surgery afterwards, some don’t. A growing number are reclaiming their bodies and scars, by having beautiful, ornate designs tattooed onto their chests. Leaves, flowers, dragons in rainbow colours twist and trail across the changed landscape of skin to create a sculptural metamorphosis. A body shield adorned with determination and triumph; a survival experience transformed into art. “Getting my tattoo was the culmination of a three year dance with Breast Cancer. The tattoo changed my mastectomy scar into my shield.” – Pam Huntley. It’s not just the finished artwork that helps the healing process, it is the creative process itself, of a woman taking back her body from the clutches of cancer and deciding to do something beautiful with the aftermath, that gives her the power over her experience.
A Disabled Veterans National Foundation in America fact sheet mentioned something that is largely unknown to many people; 18.9 percent of women veterans have a service-connected disability—nearly 3 percent more than male veterans. In a report by DAV (Disabled American Veterans) “Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home” they say: “Women have patrolled the streets of Fallujah and Kandahar, they have driven in convoys on desert roads and mountain passes, they have deployed with Special Forces in Afghanistan on cultural support teams, they have climbed into the cockpits of fighter jets and out of the bloody rubble after IED explosions. Many have begun their long journey home.” Almost 280,000 women have served Post-9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nevertheless their contribution is little understood and rarely recognised. When they return physically and mentally scarred, having lost limbs and suffering post-traumatic stress disorder in the same way that their male counterparts have, the lack of support, respect and recognition is even more damaging and their transition back into civilian life even more traumatising.
To raise awareness to the plight of these women and to celebrate their service in the military the multi-disciplined art exhibition “Celebrating Women in Service, Honoring Their Sacrifice” took place in San Francisco in June 2015, with contributions from women veterans. It was inspired by the notion that art encourages expression and healing. The exhibit featured art by 28 artists whose work gives voice to women veterans, service members and families, friends and loved ones of women who served in the military, some of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan, presenting photography, poetry, painting, and sculpture.
We don’t have to be artists to express ourselves. The simple act of keeping a daily journal allows a vent for our feelings. Writing is a force for wrestling with demons. When Julie Burchill took the courageous decision to write about the suicide of her adult son who had suffered years of mental health problems, she gave us an internal view of the workings of her traumatic experience. She showed us the primal pain of a mother losing her son. But we were also able to witness how the creative act of writing helped her find a path through her grief. She laid bare her questions, her guilt, her helplessness and we were bystanders to the meanderings of her pain. But through the piece she did seem to find some kind of healing if only to know she loved him, he’d loved her and that now he was out of the agony of his mental torture. She gave release to her despair by allowing free rein to her creative mind as it attempted to paint some kind of meaning or sense to her family’s suffering.
The physical act of writing, or scribbling or doodling is a release. You don’t have to be a professional, you just have to do it. The creativity of our minds is driven to find a way through pain and when we give expression to our questions, it gives us a way to heal. Where parts of our lives have become unravelled, using our creative thinking skills we can knit them back together again. We naturally create strategies which lead us through the ups and downs.
Learn to develop your creative thinking skills to help you through the challenges of life. Or if you know someone who is struggling and could do with a helping hand please do get in contact. Email me on Lou@createlab.co.uk
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