December 1, 2023

The Healing Power of Art During the Pandemic

Arts and Healing Programs

During the pandemic, many museums have offered creative workshops to promote well-being and support communities affected by illness. These programs often include collaborations with neuroscientists, somatic experience practitioners, therapists, educators and mindfulness instructors.

Art-making provides a soothing, therapeutic space for patients and their families to communicate. It also reduces their levels of stress and anxiety.

The Mind-Body Connection

The mind and body are connected, so it’s important to treat both with equal care. This is why arts and healing programs include a holistic approach. From paintings to dance, meditation to music, these activities provide ways to soothe and connect the spirit as well as the body.

Research shows that re-creating past events and thoughts through art in a safe and supportive environment can retrain the brain to not be so stressed by these memories. This technique, called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, helps patients with mental health issues like PTSD and anxiety.

Adding art to hospital spaces can make them more welcoming and enjoyable for patients, visitors, and staff. In fact, studies show that patient outcomes and satisfaction improve when a healing environment incorporates artwork. This includes reducing stress during waiting, decreasing patient anxiety, and improving the working environment for healthcare providers.

It’s Good for Your Mental Health

When you make art, it activates both hemispheres of the brain and deep areas of the brain that control emotions and self-esteem. This activation is the foundation for neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to adapt and change through new experiences, including art.

Art therapy, which is when you create art under the guidance of a trained art therapist, can be helpful for people with a wide range of mental health problems. It can help you learn to identify your feelings, develop coping skills, and connect with your identity.

You don’t need a professional art therapist to enjoy the benefits of creative self-expression, though. Just creating something—like a picture, song, dance, or poem—can improve your mood and boost your confidence. It can also reduce stress and anxiety, and it may even help you sleep better. Just be sure to do it in a safe and supportive space. If you’re looking for a place to get started, check out the American Art Therapy Association’s art therapist locator.

It’s Good for Your Physical Health

Art is not only about expressing oneself creatively, it can also soothe and heal physical pain, boost the immune system, ease stress and anxiety, increase self-esteem, and encourage positive emotions. In addition, studies show that viewing and appreciating art triggers both hemispheres of the brain.

Many healthcare organizations use the arts to create a healing environment for their patients and visitors. For example, Erlanger has a variety of arts programs that promote wellness and support the entire community including orchestras, choirs, ballet, and artists who display their work at the medical mall.

Art therapists have used visual arts to help cancer patients, students with mental health challenges, and many other groups. For instance, painting has been shown to reduce anxiety in children with ADHD, lower depression in adults with cancer, and decrease pain in children with asthma. Music has been found to improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease, and meditation increases cognitive function and reduces stress.

It’s Good for Your Social Health

For many, art is a form of social connection. Creating art and sharing it with others promotes community, fosters empathy, reduces stress, and increases self-esteem.

During the coronavirus pandemic, when face-to-face meetings were canceled, artist Andrea Cooper found herself growing more isolated and stressed from not seeing her friends. Her art therapist helped her find new ways to express herself, including by using visual arts, such as drawing, sculpting and painting, to help her manage her symptoms and feelings.

Research demonstrates that creative arts experience, such as dance/movement, drumming, music, visual and literary arts, and theater improve emotional well-being, strengthen learning, support resiliency, and enhance health and wellbeing. The National Endowment for the Arts’ research grants and NEA Research Labs explore the intersection of arts and health through multiple methodologies. These include examining the physiological and psychological impacts of the arts on health and social and emotional well-being, and exploring how to effectively deliver process-oriented arts experiences in healthcare settings.

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