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Balance | Wellness Starts From Creativity

by Jacke Tan

Lately, I have been seeing a lot more cases of stress-related illness, as well as the spike in depression cases even among my contacts. Mental illness is a serious matter that has been for far too long ignored especially from the sufferers themselves as well as people around them.

I remember I had a classmate who was suffering from depression many years ago, he was a brilliant student who majored in film studies (sound engineering). We lived in the same neighbourhood and would often meet up to discuss films and such. I remember he once revealed that he has been taking medication to ‘treat’ his depression. That was my first encounter with someone suffering from depression. He couldn’t quite articulate what it was but that it felt like a darkness that just cannot be ‘wiped’ away, and the only way for him was to take medication that left him drowsy and muddled most of the time. I was too young then to comprehend what he was going through, but I knew that it affected his studies and his life greatly. It was then I realised there are people who appear outwardly normal, going about their daily lives but suffering silently within. Back then I thought (like most people who were ignorant about this disease) that it was something that one can just ‘snap out of it’.

However, I now know that there is no simple solution to this, like-wise with stress. We live in a stress-filled society, and our minds are constantly under attack with an overflow of information and pressure. Even when off work, we unknowingly put ourselves under constant mental and physical strain, whether it is straining our eyes staring into our handsets till late in the night, or Netflix binge-ing through the night. What we assume to be ‘relaxation’ is actually adding more strain on ourselves mentally and physically.

Studies have shown that participation and/or engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses, and in some cases, even improvements in immune system functioning. Visual art therapy, for example, is trending toward many of these health gains. Even engagement in the arts as a viewer can have an impact. However, if you really want to benefit from the arts for wellness, studies continue to show that active participation is your best bet (Bolwerk et al, 2014).

As of 2015, additional studies have indicated that creative self-expression and exposure to the arts have wide-ranging effects on not only cognitive and psychosocial health but also physical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, various forms of dementia and cancer. One of the most compelling studies was recently conducted by the Mayo Clinic and it proposed that people who engage in art activities (painting, drawing, and sculpting; crafts, like woodworking, pottery, ceramics, quilting, quilling, and sewing) in middle and old age may delay cognitive decline in very old age. These findings underscore the idea that it is possible to build a “cognitive reserve” through engaging in novel, creative experiences that have a protective effect on the brain. According to the principle investigator, “Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age” (American Academy of Neurology, 2015).

Creativity is increasingly being recognised and validated as a potent mind-body approach as well as cost-effective intervention to address a variety of challenges throughout our lives. While there are still limitations in existing studies, essentially creative expression is still good for us in one way or another.

As one of my favourite artists, Makoto Fujimura once said, Art Ultimately Feeds the Soul.

Jacke Tan, Chief Creative Head


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