This is not going to be one of those posts that berates you for not using any extra time you may have to learn a new skill. To start with, you may, like me, actually have less time at the moment, and, even if you do have more time on your hands, you may not be in any state to start learning something new. And that is absolutely fine.

However, you may not be aware of just what a positive effective doing something creative, however simple, can have on your brain and your emotions.

Doing something creative has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol, a key stress hormone. In one study, adults were given materials to make art, with no expectation that they should produce a final outcome. After 45 minutes around 75% of the subjects had experienced a statistically significant reduction in cortisol levels.

Note that the emphasis was on the process, not on the outcome. As those of us with creative jobs know, trying too hard to be creative can actually increase stress, but if we can approach a creative activity with curiosity and a sense of just wanting to explore, it can clearly help us to relax.

Why might creativity aid relaxation?

We know that if we are fully focused and absorbed in what we are doing we enter what Csikszentmihalyi has referred to as ‘flow’, a state where we can lose track of time or events happening around us.

In a flow state, we are likely to not only reduce the level of stress chemicals in our systems, but also produce more feel good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine.

In a study at John Hopkins, the researchers found that when jazz musicians were improvising, their brains switched off areas related to self- criticism, which suggests that we are likely to quieten that annoying critical voice inside us when we’re fully caught up in being creative. We’re also less likely to be ruminating on all our worries about the future.

What kind of things can we do to be creative?

Being creative doesn’t have to involve anything too complicated- in fact, if we want to reduce stress, we do NOT want to be wrestling with something that frustrates us. Those of us who have kids, might just draw, paint or cook alongside them, or do some junk modelling. If it’s just you, you could take some photos, or cook something new, do some singing or dancing or gardening, or, if you actually want to learn a new skill, maybe do an online skills swap with a friend.

The key thing is to dance (or paint, or cook or whatever) like no-one’s watching. This isn’t about producing something great to post on facebook, it’s about the process of doing something creative, and the positive effects this will have.

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