Creating Art Can Reduce Stress

Creating Art Can Reduce StressCreating Art Can Reduce Stress

Feeling stressed? Get drawing. A new study suggests that creating art can reduce stress levels - regardless of a person’s artistic skill.

Published in the journal Art Therapy, the study found that just 45 minutes of art creation - such as making clay models or drawing - reduced levels of the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone.” Produced in the adrenal glands, situated above the kidneys, cortisol levels increase in response to stress. Therefore, the higher a person’s cortisol levels, the more stressed they are.

Previous studies have documented the stress-relieving potential of art. A 2010 review, for example, found that creative engagement - whether in the form of drawing, writing, or music - can lower stress and anxiety, and improve mood.

Girija Kaimal, assistant professor of creative arts therapies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, and colleagues set out to gain a better understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying such findings, reported.

For their study, researchers enrolled 39 adults aged 18-59 years to a 45-minute art-making session.

Participants were provided with a selection of art materials, such as modeling clay, marker pens, and paper, and were told they could use them to create anything they wanted to.

The team notes that around half of the participants had little experience in creating art.

Before and after the art-making session, researchers took saliva samples from each participant, which they used to measure cortisol levels.

They identified a reduction in cortisol levels among 75% of the participants, indicating a reduction in stress.

Kaimal said the results weren’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting.

The remaining 25%, however, demonstrated an increase in cortisol during the session, but researchers say this is to be expected, noting that cortisol is also needed for functioning.

“For example, our cortisol levels vary throughout the day - levels are highest in the morning because that gives us an energy boost to get us going at the start of the day,” she explains. “It could’ve been that the art-making resulted in a state of engagement in the participants.”

Overall, researchers say their findings suggest art-making may be an effective way to reduce stress.

“We want to ultimately examine how creative pursuits could help with psychological well-being and, therefore, physiological health, as well,” they said.