Back To Blog > Getting in the Flow – Creativity and Mental Health

This post is by guest blogger Matthew Savage 

In a constantly connected world, many people find it difficult to “switch off” and relax. A 2018 report by Ofcom found that people in the UK pick up their smartphone on average every 12 minutes, with 54% of people admitting that connected devices interrupt face-to-face discussions. This consistent need to check devices is also said to impact our concentration levels, reducing our capacity to concentrate for long periods of time, impacting our productivity and breaking our “flow” (Duke, 2017). In addition to these issues, the charity Mind has noted that 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer some kind of mental health issue every year. Because of these types of research, mindfulness has become a real buzzword over the last five years, with a gluttony of apps providing individuals with the opportunity to learn and indulge in mindfulness meditation techniques. As an example, Headspace, one of the leading mindfulness apps, has seen 15 million downloads. And despite the research linking improved mental health and mindfulness, these apps can feel very unrewarding and inaccessible to many people because of their nature to encourage “settling the mind to stillness”, something that is extremely difficult to do for many people without hours of practice. With this in mind, it is important to consider other types of activities when trying to relax and unwind, activities which can help combat the above concerns. As an example, evidence suggests that the meaningful use of creative arts to improve mental health can improve psychological and physical well-being. One study found that individuals had a reduction in anxiety and depression after exposure to creative activities (Daykin et al. 2008), with many other studies suggesting the same. According to research, “being creative” can have real positive implications for our mood, our mindset and even our productivity, increasing and strengthening neurological connections between different areas of the brain.

Creative Behaviours and Flow

“Flow” is the state of being absorbed in something. When we are creative, we are often engaged in repetitive, creative motion which leads to a release in dopamine, your brains feel good hormone. One psychologist, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, found that the best moments in people’s lives were those moments of “flow” – when our mind is stretched and absorbed in an activity that is not too easy nor too hard. This is a hyper productive state and has also been coined “creative fire” (Wenger and Poe, 1995). With this in mind, it seems like finding the right balance between stillness and flow can be an optimum place for our brains to be in. Good news for those of who find mindfulness hard to enjoy and difficult to implement.

What Creative Activities Can Increase Our Flow?

Photography – Taking shots and being out with a camera can be very therapeutic. It requires total concentration, or complete “mindfulness”. It allows the photographer to express their emotions through the shot and can help calm the mind and dispel anxiety as you focus on the shot. It is a great source of relaxation for many.

Expressive writing - Free writing/blogging/diary entries/poetry are all great ways to focus on a task and generate flow. Expressive writing in particular (writing about an event and examining how it made you feel) has been marked as particularly effective in helping people overcome acute stress and trauma. It allows reflection on a subject and can generate positive feelings.

Art/colouring - The Arts Council England (2007) believe that ‘experiencing the arts and culture creates a sense of well-being for individuals and communities’. Joining an art group can lead to wellbeing benefits including increased socialisation and interaction and research has shown adult colouring books can help in the reduction of anxiety (Mantzios and Giannou, 2018). 

Music engagement – Recent research by the charity Mind also discovered that dopamine production can be as much as 9% higher when volunteers listened to music they enjoyed. Furthermore, research by Stuckley and Nobel found that listening to music can lead to effective restoration of our immune systems.  

So, if “switching off” and being still feels too slow paced in this connected world we live in, why not write a page of reflection, splash some paint on a canvas or dance to your favourite music with friends? Your productivity may increase, your body and mind may relax and you may just find your flow.

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage has an MSc in Psychology, is a qualified personal trainer, and has worked within the field of cognitive rehabilitation for 5 years. He is an FA qualified football coach, with a keen interest in moral behaviour and wellbeing within team sports. 

References

Mantzios, M., & Giannou, K. (2018). When Did Coloring Books Become Mindful? Exploring the Effectiveness of a Novel Method of Mindfulness-Guided Instructions for Coloring Books to Increase Mindfulness and Decrease Anxiety. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 56. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00056    [Accessed 06 June 2020]

Moore, E.; Schaefer, R.S.; Bastin, M.E.; Roberts, N.; Overy, K. Can Musical Training Influence Brain Connectivity? Evidence from Diffusion Tensor MRI. Brain Sci. 2014, 4, 405-427

Ozorio, T. (2011). Why music is great for your mental health. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/why-music-is-great-for-your-mental-health [Accessed 06 June 2020)

Poe, W & Wenger, R., (1995). The Einstein Factor: A Proven New Method for Increasing Your Intelligence. Prima Publishing.

Creativity

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