Link Between the Creative Arts and Our Mental Health

The expression of creative arts has been a part of human evolution since the first cave drawings were discovered. It is the intuitive part of being human to want to express our unique narratives in different forms through the aesthetic lens: literature, music, painting, architecture, sculpture, photography, landscaping, woodworking, cooking, movement, etc.

Being engaged in different creative processes enables us to see the world around us in new and different ways: it helps us reflect and pause, problem solve, nourish and refresh our bodies and minds, appreciate beauty, socialize, share, and have fun. Just as different foods nourish our physical body and brain, the creative arts feed our soul.

When we are engaged in the creative arts, it puts us in a state of FLOW: we are completely absorbed in our chosen endeavor by being present and focused with enjoyment. As stated by this article from the Mayo Clinic: “Time ceases to exist; this moment stretches on infinitely. Your attention is focused solely on the task at hand: the awareness and execution of each stride. You are in the zone… you are experiencing the state of flow”. Why is being in this state so important to us? When we are in this state of flow/zone, we are more mindful of our environment and what we are doing, we are relaxed and at peace, and this contributes to feelings of being positive, joyful, and accomplished. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who is credited for popularizing this term stated “When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.”

Benefits of Creative Arts

As stated in this article by The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health: “Brain fact: Every day your brain processes about 70000 thoughts” and our brain functions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Being in a state of flow enables us to fully focus on the tasks at hand, stay in the present moment with total absorption, and quiet our thoughts: it is when we are in the optimal state of consciousness, and where our feelings and performance are at our best, giving us a sense of accomplishment and joy.

This article in Forbes stated: “Being in the flow helps your happiness. Repetitive creative motions like knitting, drawing, or writing help activate flow, as are all tasks that create a result. And when you succeed at creating a result, no matter what, your brain is flooded with dopamine, that feel-good chemical that helps motivate you.”

As sports psychology states “Being in the “zone” is a state of supreme focus that helps athletes in all sports perform at their peak potential”. The creative arts offer very similar experiences and processes, and people are reported to have higher levels of happiness, productivity, and creativity when they experience being in the flow.

From a psychological point of view, engaging in the creative arts allows us the space to process and express our inner narratives positively. In other words, it will enable us to express our emotions and feelings in ways besides spoken words, which is an important step toward healing.

Often sharing these activities (think of quilting or knitting circles, gardening groups, music ensembles, etc.) enables us to socialize and connect when there may be barriers: language, emotional, and cultural.

It provides us a space to reflect and process as we experience calmness and relaxation. This article from Diversus Health stated that “Expressing ourselves through creative and artistic activities can help to relieve stress and anxiety, and lessen shame, anger, and depression after experiencing a traumatic event”.

Studies through the years have also shown that engaging in creative self-expression and exposure has positive effects cognitively, psychologically, and physically in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, various forms of dementia, and chronic pains.

According to a principal investigator in a research conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, “Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying; stimulate the growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age” (American Academy of Neurology, 2015).

As recently as during the pandemic, studies have shown that when we are engaged in the creative arts, we are more resilient when dealing with mental health challenges. Medical care providers tap into their creativity to maintain their mental health and well-being during challenging times.

Engaging in the Creative Arts:

The good news is that all of us can experience flow since the emphasis is on the process of doing creative tasks and not the end products. We can engage in numerous activities that spark creativity in all of us, as long as we remain open to exploring and tapping into our curiosity.

Here are a few examples:

Dancing, singing, playing musical instruments
Journaling, reflective, and expressive writing
Spending time in nature – walking, gardening, hiking, running, walking on the beach, etc.
Fiber-related activities – knitting, crochet, embroidery, weaving, quilting, sewing, etc.
Drawing, coloring, painting
Sculpting, building, and creating with different materials and media.

Here in Jersey City, it is no surprise that there is an abundance of opportunities to engage in the creative arts since it has been voted #2 in the top 40 Arts-vibrant communities in the nation, along with New York City and White Plains, NY.

Remember that these creative activities do not have to be expensive, elaborate, or time-consuming most of them are free and available (look around your home).

Activities like playing with Legos, doodling, coloring, singing out loud, playing with Play-Doh or air modeling clay, etc. are ways to engage in daily creative tasks.

Here is a sample of the creative endeavors that you can participate in.

Consider the Various Art Workshops:

Jersey City Fabrication Lab
Jersey City Art School
Art Mango
JC Print Room
Project Studio LLC

Clay and Pottery:

Sandy Mones Pottery
Betty’s Ceramics Club and Supplies Co.
Blue Skies Pottery

Creative Movements:

Diva Dance
Performing Arts Workshop
Kennedy Dancers
Jersey City Ballroom

Music for All Ages:

Gotham Music Academy
Fort Lee Music School
Tonal Art Music Center


New Jersey School of Woodworking

Local Library:


Engaging in Nature – Parks and Gardens:

Parks in Jersey City
New Jersey State Botanical Gardens
Van Vleck House and Gardens
Office of Cultural Affairs Jersey City

Check out EverythingJerseyCity related to this topic. Here are the blogs related to hobbies and interests, as well as the creative arts:

Arts + Culture

Hobbies + Interests

Christina Kuo is a licensed therapist and a wellness advisor at NIH OITE where she creates and delivers mental health wellness programs and workshops. In her free time, she loves exploring local yarn and fabric shops for her love of anything textile-related and looks forward to trying local foods wherever she goes.

Christina Kuo
Author: Christina Kuo