It’s widely believed that there is often a connection between creative occupations and mental health difficulties, both historically in terms of some of our most famous artists and writers, and more recently when we look at the struggles of several actors, singers and comedians. However, the actual scientific evidence for this has been questioned and a definite answer has yet to be categorically proven.
But regardless of whether being a more creative person leaves you more vulnerable to mental health issues, can partaking in creative tasks actually aid recovery?
I’ve written a lot in the past about the importance of self-care for those who are struggling, particularly in relation to perinatal mental illness (since life with a new baby doesn’t leave a lot of room for yourself!), and I think creative tasks play a big part in this. Self-care doesn’t have to be creative of course. Something as simple as a bath, a run or time with your favourite TV show can be effective. However, being around fellow sufferers and advocates I’ve noticed a pattern of creative activities being particularly good at encouraging positivity and boosting mood. I think there are lots of reasons for this:
- Completing a creative task can bring satisfaction, contentment and boost self-confidence, which is particularly helpful when you’re experiencing Postnatal Depression or Anxiety because your confidence in your parenting abilities, and even in your belief that you’re a good person, can take a serious knocking.
- Unlike watching TV or relaxing in the bath, being creative encourages your brain to focus on the task in hand, it’s the perfect distraction from negative thoughts or unwanted behaviours.
- It uses up some of the surplus energy that you may find you have when struggling with panic and anxiety, and channels it into something tactile and positive.
- It gives you a sense of purpose and makes you feel like you’re doing something poductive rather than ruminating on your worries and fears. You may also be able to make something for someone else, which always feels good.
- It’s yours; it’s part of your identity outside of being a parent.
- During the early days of recovery I made loom bracelets (remember those?), I’m a terrible sewer and knitter but I could manage weaving those bands and enjoyed creating complex and detailed patterns. It focused my mind and brought a little relief from the anxious thoughts, and I enjoyed the results.
- Later on I discovered adult colouring books which again uses the repetitive patterns to give our minds a rest while we are able to use the artistic side of our brains to create beautiful patterns.
- More recently, I’ve begun to get into card-making and papercraft – again, it’s completely engrossing, encourages creative thinking and brings a satisfying result.
- And, of course, writing. The therapeutic and creative outlet this blog has given me has been a vital part of my recovery and, subsequently, my longer term happiness.
I recently asked some of my lovely #pndhour friends to share what creative outlet they found helpful during recovery and ongoing in life:
“I started making jewellery – when I created something I felt a sense of achievement and I was able to give it as gifts too – it was something easy I could do and it was a great way to take my mind off things for a while” Sarah Wood, Lotus Petal Family Support
“I started colouring in the evenings before I went up to bed. No matter how tired I was I would do a few minutes. It was really relaxing and great for clearing the mind before trying to get that much needed sleep. It was also great to be creating something lovely to look at.” Ellie, Honest Mumma
“I used to knit. I couldn’t (and still struggle) to just sit in front of the tele, I’d feel bad that I wasn’t doing anything so I’d knit. I’m not very good at it but it did it’s purpose, helping me to relax.” – Ruth, The Smile Group
“I took up crocheting because of my PND. It kept my restless hands busy, meant I could create toys and blankets for the family. And I got a sense of achievement from learning a new skill.” Caroline, Pop Tart Mum
“I draw and colour. But also I use other people’s creativity – visiting art galleries helps me restore a sense of calm and helps my thoughts focus on each piece and look for my own meaning. Plus art galleries are quiet and usually have good coffee! I think we can immerse our senses in other’s creativity to reach the same goal – whether through art, literature or music” Rosie, Cocoon Family Support
If you’re struggling at the moment, maybe try one of these creative activities, or something else you know you enjoy (or at least used to enjoy) as it could bring a lot of relief. And who knows, it might even lead something more in the future and make up a bit part of your post-baby identity.