Living with a chronic illness can feel like a daily hustle that requires a tremendous amount of discipline, determination and time. There are so many “musts,” which leaves less time for leisure and creative pursuits.
But creative expression can add some joy to our everyday routines. Having an interest outside of work or school and managing health can improve our overall sense of well-being. From a mental health perspective, studies have shown that creative expression can boost mental health, help a person cope with chronic illness and provide healing properties.
Creative hobbies – whether it’s drawing, singing, journaling or planting a flower garden – provides an outlet for distraction, which can be good for both your physical and mental health. Focusing on a creative activity can distract us from the stressors of living with chronic illness.
Here are the key benefits:
- Creative activities reduce stress: Creative expression lowers stress by producing the mood-enhancing chemicals dopamine and endorphins, which decrease cortisol, the stress hormone that causes an inflammatory process. This is also leads to the bonus of an elevated mood. Who would not want that?
- Creative activities improve neuroplasticity and brain health: Participating in creative outlets can enhance neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change itself structurally in positive ways as you learn a new skill. Creativity also can increase cognitive functioning, improving memory (and decreasing brain fog) and improving a person’s ability to manage daily tasks. Studies have shown that creativity can have a positive impact on memory for elderly people.
- Creative activities improve connections and decrease isolation. A rare or serious medical condition can limit a person’s social life and could also keep them from working outside the home, which is another way to make friends and create social connections. Living in this way can lead to feelings of disconnectedness. The person might get out of practice in simple things, like making small talk with others. But doing something creative, like learning a musical instrument or trying your hand at knitting, also opens the door to more connections with others. You may meet new friends and bond over your shared mutual interest. A creative interest gives you an opportunity to have something to talk about outside of your illness.
How do you find your creative niche if you don’t already have one? The possibilities for creative hobbies are almost endless. Here are some ways to brainstorm a list of ideas:
Think about something in childhood that you loved and recreate that experience. Maybe you start painting again, attend a dance class, take up woodworking or join an online book club. Many local governments offer classes and clubs, often through the local library or parks system.
Creative expression does not necessarily mean that you must be crafty or artistic. It can also be just learning something or trying something new. You might take a cooking class or go on a nature walk. You might try a museum visit, attend a free concert or decide to learn more about history and current events.
Depending on your age and stage of life, perhaps there’s more time now to pursue a hobby or maybe you’re crunched for time and need to find ways of being creative with your kids. Whatever you choose, you can search YouTube and the local library for more info as you gain expertise.
What if you have limitations? Remember there’s always a way to make an adaptation to support what you can do. Virtual options also exist for just about every area of interest which allows you to participate from home. Take small steps in the direction of creativity. Add a new dish to the menu or open your ears to a new musician or an informative podcast while waiting for a medical appointment. Make the simple goal to incorporate something new into your life and be intentional.
With all of the responsibilities we have, “adulting,” it’s easy to neglect the pleasure of exploring creativity. There is reason we give children so many opportunities to be creative. Whether they’re drawing outside with sidewalk chalk or hard at work learning the piano, creative activities let kids challenge themselves and develop skills that improve their confidence. They feel engaged and filled with a sense of purpose and joy. Those benefits are still available to us grownups. Sometimes we just need a reminder.