At the end of 2020, we created a project for our Studenteers with the charity, Arts For All, based in Tower Hamlets, London, who provide art therapy sessions for disadvantaged families in the area. The centre sits within one of the most deprived areas of the UK – many of the families who come to the centre are unemployed, and three quarters of these families have English as their second language. Through long term support, Arts For All, helps people in the local community to build confidence, achieve their goals, and ultimately change their lives for the better.
This got me thinking about the role creativity can play in supporting our mental health. Whilst art therapy might not be for everyone, I believe everyone has a creative bone in their body, whether you are an artist or musician, have a passion for cooking, or enjoy collecting postcards and posters to decorate your bedroom. When we are being creative, we are able to connect to ourselves and to the world around us; our creativity can enable us to feel centered and grounded. We all experience stress and upset in our lives from time to time, and this can create a disconnect between our experiences, our emotions, and those around us. In these times of stress, we can tap into our creativity to connect back to ourselves.
Creativity is just one way of feeling connected, so is going to therapy, doing yoga, walking in nature, or listening to a friend talk about their feelings without judgement.
These daily ‘mindfulness’ practices can help us regulate in times of stress, and can also be a preventative measure, helping to develop our resilience for when something comes up that could be upsetting or distressing. We can get so caught up in making plans and preparing for the future, whilst studying or learning the ropes in our first job, that it can be hard to find the time to just be present with ourselves. But carving out some time to be creative or to go for a walk in nature, can be really beneficial in our ability to manage our workload, or to cope when life doesn’t go to plan. The more we can take responsibility for ourselves and our well-being in this way, the better our society will be as a whole. When we make a consistent effort to be present and connected to ourselves, it becomes easier to be present and connected to others, whether with our friends, families or colleagues.
When creativity becomes the way we make a living, whether through freelance illustration, or being a filmmaker, it can make the relationship to our creativity strained. We need to show up for our jobs everyday, but our creativity comes in ebbs and flows. Sometimes we are having a bad day and just aren’t feeling connected, or sometimes we feel creatively blocked, especially when there is a deadline looming, from our course or from a client.
When we are struggling with our mental health, whether we are feeling anxious, depressed, or just having a low-confidence day and our inner critic is berating us, it can feel difficult to be creative. We might not have the headspace for being creative in a productive way, and that is okay! We can allow ourselves to pause from working on a project, or trying to force creativity. We can let ourselves rest and connect with our inner creativity. As a writer, when I need to connect to myself, and I am feeling the pressure of needing to write something that is critically engaging for others, I turn to other forms of creativity. I sit down to do a puzzle, I cook a new recipe for my housemates, or I make collages with patterned paper and affirmations I find in magazines.
These aren’t going anywhere for someone to judge, give feedback on, or to be selected for a submission. It can be really helpful to reserve some creativity that is protected, just for ourselves, that we can turn to whenever we need.
Arts For All has shown that creativity has the potential to transform people’s lives through how they relate to themselves and others. Whilst we are all unique and the pandemic is affecting every one of us in a different way, I believe that if we all take some time to bring creativity and playfulness into our lives, the more we will be able to show up for ourselves and for those around us.
By Greta Sharp for Studenteer
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