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Creativity Heals

Unlock imagination that does a whole body good and offers workplace benefits.

Rewind to your earliest days of Play-Doh, fingerpaint, Crayolas and make-believe play—even marker on the walls or cutting Barbie’s hair. Creative expression was simply an innate part of everyday life. In fact, since the beginning of time, humans have expressed complex emotions and communicated ideas through art.

When did we stop?

NASA asked the question in a longitudinal test of creative potential involving 1,600 4- and 5-year-olds. At this age, 98% scored at “creative genius” level. Five years later, that number dropped to 30%, and five years after that, just 12%. The same test was administered to adults. Only 2% scored at a creative genius level.

Let’s face it, we spend a good part of our lives at work mostly exercising the left side of the brain, responsible for logic, language and all-the-things productivity including worry. The right side that is recruited for creativity and intuition is not stimulated nearly as often in most occupations. So much like exercising to build strength and endurance—or falling out of shape—many of us are lopsided “upstairs.”

Isn’t it time we wake up and work out the artistic side, even if our adult drawings would not make it to the kindergarten art show?

There’s research that overwhelmingly says, “Yes.”

In a publication about the science of stress in society, Steven Schlozman, a contributor at the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, said, “[Art] is a way for us to express the inner workings of our own mind so we can process them and find healing. And it’s a way for us to find a connection, both with other humans and with the world at large.”

Art can be messy—so is life. Creativity heals. It inspires, relieves stress and opens the mind to accepting new ideas. Think about doodling in class or during a meeting as you brainstorm concepts. You’re stoking the right brain, triggering a creative thought process that is valuable in the workplace—and it feels good.

The journal The Arts in Psychotherapy published a study reporting that when participants doodled in or around a circle, blood flow increased in the part of the brain that wires the “reward circuit”

Those adult coloring books that came onto the scene a number of years ago was no accident. It was a resurgence of getting lost in a sea of colorful markers.

In a world with increased awareness of mental health concerns negatively impacting our overall wellbeing, why not introduce creativity into the workplace just as you plan wellness events or get-fit initiatives? How can you work art into education as we slide into benefits enrollment season? And why not brainstorm ideas to put creative concepts into play with your people?

There’s proof that introducing creative expression into everyday life, including the workplace, does a whole body good.

A Drexel University study showed creative expression is an effective way to deal with stress. Three quarters of participants showed reduced cortisol levels after creating an art project from clay, markers or collage materials.

Even the simplest, elementary tools like a kaleidoscope offer therapeutic and healing value. A research group led by Dr. Hirotomo Ochi, director of the Institute for Age Control in Fukoroi City, Japan, conducted numerous studies showing the act of looking through a kaleidoscope can lower stress.

Why? Sight involves almost 80 percent of the five senses, and while sunshine is the most beneficial light source, we spend about 90 percent of our time in artificial light, which actually increases stress.

The kaleidoscope—a toy we might view as child’s play—plays a powerful role in easing anxiety and producing joy.

Consider a creativity workshop, a “toy bin” of tools like the simple kaleidoscope, Play-Doh, colored pencils and scrap paper and coloring books. Make creativity accessible and accepted. Just as we encourage each other to take a brisk walk during lunch to add movement to the day, try suggesting an art break as a way to refresh the mind, body and spirit.

About Health Action Council 
Health Action Council
 is a not-for-profit 501(c)(6) organization representing mid-and large-size employers that enhance human and economic health through thought leadership, innovative services, and collaboration. It provides value to its members by facilitating projects that improve the quality and moderate the cost of healthcare purchased by its members for their employees, dependents, and retirees. Health Action Council also collaborates with key stakeholders – health plans, physicians, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry – to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare in the community.

Patty Starr bio image

About the author

Patty Starr

Patty Starr is president and CEO of Health Action Council and is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization--build stronger, healthier communities where business can thrive. 

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