How Exploring Your Creativity Can Help Your Recovery
The twentieth-century French thinker Jean Paul Sartre was a prolific creator. Many of us associate him with the branch of philosophy known as “existentialism” that he helped to create. But Sartre was also a playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer and literary critic.
He also was a notorious chain smoker: he was always smoking from a pipe and died from a lung edema.
Sartre probably smoked so much because he felt he needed something to help him keep up his incessant drive to create. To create, you need motivation, after all. And to get motivation, a lot of people misguidedly turn to substances. Many brilliant musicians, for example, have used drugs to motivate them to keep innovating and creating. They all suffer the consequences.
But what many people don’t know is that there is a growing body of research into the health benefits of creativity, suggesting that pursuing a creative hobby or interest can be good for your recovery. My next blog will throw out some practical tips for how to develop your creativity in early recovery. In the meantime, the following findings should convince anyone, regardless of where they are in their recovery, that exploring their creativity is a commendable pursuit:
- Creative activities have “brain boosting” effects. A recent article in Medical News Today provided some examples:
- Playing a musical instrument evidently increases brain connectivity, and music itself stimulates a region of the brain known as the “limbic system.” (The limbic system is the seat of our emotions, governing our emotional responses to stressful stimuli and the memories that we attach to these experiences.)
- Writing—just the act of writing something down—reportedly improves learning and memorization.
- And, in a 2004 study, older adults who took an acting and dramatic performance class experienced improvements in both cognitive functioning and quality of life.
Having an outlet for creative expression can improve your mental health. For example, researchers at Georgetown University found that just one 20-minute journaling exercise helped change the way cancer patients think and feel about their disease. When these patients were asked to write down their deepest thoughts and feelings, they achieved a more positive outlook and better physical quality of life that lasted for at least three weeks.
Similar findings described the experience of trauma survivors who, in conjunction with trauma-informed therapy, were asked to journal. In the process, they were able to make sense of the traumatic event in personal ways, towards greater life integration.
There are also physical health benefits to creativity. Music therapy has been found to boost the immune system, for example. So, too, has journaling, which reportedly increased CD4+ lymphocyte count in patients with HIV.
Journaling can also reduce chronic pain, a condition that drives many people into opiate addiction. When outpatients from a chronic pain center were asked to express their anger in a letter-writing exercise, they experienced a reduction in pain and depressive symptoms.
Dance is another area of creative expression where researchers are stumbling upon physical health benefits:
- Aerobic dance and Zumba programs can improve blood pressure and cholesterol and promote weight loss and healthy weight management.
- A 2007 Korean study found that both hip-hop and aerobic dancing improved mood and energy levels.
- Dancing also helped breast cancer survivors achieve a more positive body image and better shoulder functioning.
On the basis of these findings, it’s easy to see how creativity and the sober practices that cultivate it can be good for your recovery. A harder question for many people in early recovery is how, practically speaking, to cultivate creativity in the aftermath of an addiction that has robbed them of this motivation. For an answer that includes practical tips for developing your creativity in early recovery, stay tuned for my next blog.
What creative outlets have helped you in your recovery? Share your experience with the rest of us!