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Looking for calm? Get creative.

To mark this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9th – 15th May) we are taking a look at the mental health benefits of getting arty, and how you can find calm in a moment of creativity.

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By Rufus Leonard

For years psychologists have studied the link between creativity and mental health, fascinated by the relationship between the two. Are people with mental health issues more inclined to be creative? Or is creativity just a successful way to combat mental health struggles? Are the two ideas mutually exclusive? The debate continues, but as a design and technology agency, we believe in the power of creativity and encourage everyone at Rufus to invest time in it.  

We pride ourselves on making a meaningful difference to everyday lives – for clients, for the industry and for our people – so to mark this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9th – 15th May), below is a look at the mental health benefits of getting arty, and how you can find calm in a moment of creativity. 

It’s an established and widely accepted fact that creativity helps us perceive the world in new and different ways – just look at the plethora of incredible works of art created throughout history, or the real-world problems solved by ‘thinking outside the box’. But according to Bupa, there are also a number of tangible health benefits1: 

1. Increases happiness 

Think about “the flow” – that state you enter when you become completely absorbed in something. Well, even just entering “the flow” can actually increase your positive emotions and reduce anxiety.  

Plus, repetitive activities like drawing, knitting and painting can help flood your brain with dopamine, that delicious feel-good hormone that helps motivate us. 

 2. Improves mood and mental health 

Studies have found activities like painting, drawing or writing can enable people to express or manage their emotions in a positive and productive way. This can help you express your goals, or experiences that may be too difficult to put into words. 

3. Increases brain function 

If music is your creative outlet there’s good news. Research shows people who like to get creative by playing an instrument have better connectivity between the left and right part of their brain. This can help improve your cognitive function. 

More of a writer than a musician? Writing things down using pen and paper (remember those?) can help boost your memory and learning. 


Creativity can have an incredible impact on mental health and wellbeing by not only helping people find meaning and significance, but providing an increased sense of purpose. So if you’re struggling to break from negative thoughts, or find space from loneliness or anxiety, it can help to get creative. The relationship works the other way, too. If you are able to harness your anxiety, it can be an immense driver of creativity – and here a few ways you can put that energy to good use:  

1. Get curious 

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s a fantastic way for humans to escape from the struggles of getting focused. Creativity doesn’t just mean producing something tangible. Start to feed your imagination, appealing to all senses: 

·  “Geek out”. Try to utterly immerse yourself in a subject that interests you, by researching, annotating books, collecting sounds and taking photographs. 

·  “Sort out”. You’ve collected it all. Now what? Try to find an order to what you’ve collected. Where are the connections between them? What’s interesting about them?  

·  “Step out”. Of your comfort zone, that is. Challenge yourself by experimenting with a new medium. Get hands on. Cover yourself in body paint and roll around a canvas if you want to. Just give it a go.  

2. Escape into fantasy 

There’s a reason we all went wild for Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones. To make sense of the world – both outside and inside our heads – our reaction is to escape to the unknown, or the un-real, where we can stop using logic and allow ourselves to suspend our disbeliefs. Try this: 

Give life to your anxiety. What shape does it take? What does it look like or how does it sound? It’s likely a much less scary monster than you imagined. 

·  Let your mind wander. And document where it takes you. Capture your stream of consciousness on anything you have at hand, whether it’s doodling on post-it notes or writing short stories on the back of old envelopes. 

·  Conjure up an image of somewhere you feel calm, add as much detail as you can. 

·  Daydream. If you could have dinner with any person in history, who would it be? What would they say?  

3. Be kind to yourself 

We’re often much tougher on ourselves than we realise – it happens very easily and very naturally. But when weforgive ourselves, accept what we see as our flaws, and show ourselves kindness, we practice self-compassion. In fact, it’s been proven that those who actively work on cultivating a self-compassionate mindset have a much higher level of originality in their creative output. So next time you catch yourself dismissing your creative attempts as not good enough, think whether you would give the same response to a friend. If the answer is no, think how you would treat a friend in a similar situation, and try to apply that attitude towards your own creative endeavours. 


Creativity is kindness 

Creativity is a powerful tool for nurturing ourselves during challenging times, and practicing these regular creative micro-movements will support you for years to come. It’s also a great way to reach out to others who are struggling or those we want to share our gratitude with. Creativity is a currency for kindness. So when anxiety challenges your ability to be creative, take it on.

About the author

We get a real kick out of delving into complex problems to make things simple for our clients. We’re a bunch of big thinkers, and we’re bubbling with curiosity! Take a look at the related insights below to see what else we've been exploring recently...

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Rufus Leonard



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