Older woman painting

9 Mental Health Benefits of Art

For many of us, drawing, painting, sculpting or simply doodling is an enjoyable way to spend some time. We used to do it when we were kids, either in art class or on our own during a rainy afternoon. Occasionally you may have surprised yourself at what you’d created. And even if it wasn’t something you wanted to show your teacher, the act of filling the page with whatever came into your head was enjoyable and engaging.

Sadly, artistic activities tend to fall by the wayside as we grow older, replaced by more “serious” subjects or the demands of career and family. For older adults, however, now is a great time to pick up a paintbrush or start to draw and doodle. Why? Because art offers seriously good benefits for seniors. From self-esteem and self-expression to stress relief and social connection, the mental health benefits of art cover a wide range of cognitive, emotional and physical attributes. Which is why you should take it up again.

Mental Health Benefits of Art

Here are just some of the mental health benefits of art you can look forward to:

1. Self-Discovery

Creating art can help carry you into the past, delve deeper into the present, and transport you to places in your unconscious mind. Hey, you’re more fascinating than you ever knew!

2. Self-Esteem

The goal of making art isn’t to become the next Grandma Moses. Rather, it’s a process of finding meaning and learning something about yourself. Plus, learning a craft through practice and perseverance can boost your self-esteem.

3. Emotional Release

Art gives you a healthy outlet for expressing your feelings. Complex emotions can’t always be expressed with words. Lines, shapes and colors can translate your emotional experience into something visual.

4. Stress Relief

Researchers found that creating art significantly lowers cortisol levels. High levels of this stress hormone put you at increased risk for many health problems, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain and memory impairment. This may help explain the popularity of coloring books for adults. If you haven’t tried it, it’s a great way to de-stress and r-e-l-a-x.

5. Enhanced Brain Function

Artistic older man

Creativity challenges the mind and results in the formation of new dendrites, the brain’s communication channels. In other words, art helps keep your mind sharp. Creating art also improves fine motor skills.

6. Increased Focus

Making art induces “flow” — that sense of losing yourself and being fully present in the moment. This meditative state focuses your mind and temporarily pushes aside all your worries. Athletes call it the zone. Meditators call it mindfulness. On a physical level, flow lowers stress, anxiety and blood pressure.

7. Happiness

Creating visual art makes you feel good. Drawing, painting, collaging, sculpting clay, cake decorating, knitting, scrapbooking — anything that engages your mind activates your brain’s reward center and stimulates the release of dopamine. Increased levels of this feel-good neurotransmitter can be very helpful if you are battling anxiety or depression.

8. Socialization

Making art a group activity is an excellent way to build healthy connections with other people. Maintaining social connections is good for your mental and physical health. Frequent social contact has been shown to reduce cognitive decline and improve vitality.

9. Longer Life

Engaging in the arts can reduce loneliness, promote empathy and emotional intelligence, and keep you from being sedentary — all factors that contribute to a longer life. One study in Britain found that simply going to a museum or the theater once a month reduced mortality.

Art is for Everyone at Timber Ridge

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or an accomplished artist, the mental health benefits of art are too great to ignore. At Timber Ridge, residents can get in touch with their inner artist in a number of ways. There are art classes in our creative arts studio and a woodworking club called The Sawdusters who, among other things, make toys in our woodworking shop to donate to local hospitals at Christmas. Art therapy is also part of our memory care program, helping residents communicate and express themselves through art. To learn more about opportunities for making art and leading a healthier, happier, more creative life, get in touch.