The Connection Between Creativity and Mental Wellness

rē•imagining their connectedness with Shantell Martin

By: rē•spin
The Connection Between Creativity and Mental Wellness

There is a special thrill to creative pursuits — an itch from somewhere within the depths of the soul. Whether an artist wields a paintbrush, strings together words in a notebook, or notes of a song. The expression of creativity is necessary, even, for certain types of individuals to thrive. Channeling creativity allows for self-expression. It provides an important outlet for problem-solving, emotions, thoughts, and a sense of release and accomplishment. This is why tapping into the creative process can profoundly affect our mental wellness, transmuting stress through a critical form of rē-connection to self.

Artist Shantell Martin understands the role of creativity on mental health and personal growth. Therefore, she integrates meditative practices into her art-making process to help deepen the process. “There are so many benefits of pursuing art with regards to having an outlet for your emotions and feelings, for having a space for self-exploration, for having a tangible way to explore the world and your surroundings, and also for having a way to connect and have meaningful experiences with others,” she says.

The Connection Between Creativity and Mental Wellness

Emotional well-being is a key component of mental wellness. Feeling mastery in the face of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is what allows a person safety in experiencing the full depths of emotional range. This breadth of the emotional experience can also correspond to latent creativity and the impetus behind expression. Whether experiencing a positive or negative state, the expression of creativity provides validation to the inner experience in a way that is important to emotional health. It allows facets of the emotional experience to be seen and acknowledged that might not be otherwise.

This correlation has been substantiated in studies, too. One study finds that even the seemingly simple act of casual sketching and doodling can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Another revealed that jazz musicians experienced a decrease in activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain associated with long-term planning and executive functioning. At the very least, this shows that creating music allows jazz musicians to re-engage with the more primal sides of the human experience. More technically, during the performance, it provides a little break from the “adult-like” part of the brain that self-censors, engages in focus, and expends energy self-regulating towards regulating the emotions.

Using Creativity to Induce Meditative States

Martin’s creative journey is rooted in what she experiences emotionally. From the beginning, meditative intuition has played a role in her artistic practices and techniques — a piece of the creative puzzle that has always been present for her as an artist. “For me, I started drawing as an escape, a way of controlling my surroundings, and getting things out. So initially, my drawings were very much attached to my feelings and experiences,” she tells rē•spin.

Martin’s drawings are now the primary focus in her life. Their creation becoming inherently meditative to her. When creating art, she explains that her state of mind changes. “It’s a place where I’m highly present and aware, but at the same time, I let the line go where it wants to. This creates a type of peaceful balance between myself and the work,” she says.

Martin has discovered techniques and meditative additions to her process. These come into play when creating her work. For larger-scale projects, Martin says she often finds herself walking or pacing in order to feel the space in which she is working. “In a way, this helps [me] to calm and calibrate before I start on my drawing adventure,” she says. 

She also finds that the moment she puts pen to paper, a calm and harmonious state soon follows. Her tools of creation are the medium that sends her brain into this flow state of mind. Over time, thanks to neuroplasticity, this has become her surest way to dip into this therapeutic space. “To be honest, I don’t know where I’d be without this creative outlet,” she says, regarding her mental wellness. “The fact that I’ve been able to get stuff out creatively has helped me in so many areas and moments in my life. Personally and professionally as an artist.”

The Healing in a Creative Practice

This is a lesson to all of us: creativity can be a valuable way to rē-connect and self-soothe. Because of this profound impact of creativity in her life, Martin encourages everyone to create by whatever means necessary. As she knows firsthand, any activity that allows you to carve out time in your day and tap into your creativity can be a meditative practice. From there, the strengthened connection to self can flourish.

“I believe we are always getting to rē-know and rē-connect ourselves. The moment we know ourselves, we’ve already changed. The nice thing with art is that you have the power of reflection, and looking back at what you’ve created, you can see that there is ultimately a core that is innately you,” Shantell notes of the self-discovery and self-knowledge to be found in artistic practice. “Beyond that, we are constantly changing, so my art has allowed me to connect with my past selves by looking back. It allows me to connect with my present self through the process of creating. Finally, it allows me to communicate with my future self through the intention behind the creation.”

Creative Evolution Via Expression

Just as the preference for artistic mediums differs between people, respective creative journeys evolve uniquely over time. The originality in the creative process is part of its beauty. The evolution of the creative self, played out over time, is entirely unique in its mercurial process of actualization. Martin knows that the specifics of her creative techniques always lived within her. But over time she has fine-tuned her style to reflect her ever-deepening knowledge of self. 

“A lot of the process is initially just thinking about what the show is, what I want it to represent, what’s a more powerful message I intend for the show to convey, and essentially asking myself what the show’s point is,” she says. Then she starts working. To see Martin’s work for yourself, it will be showcased from May 7th-June 4th at Subliminal Projects in Los Angeles, California.

Image Credit: Michelle Mosqueda

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