By: Sabrina Begum
Pick up any leaflet about self-care, read any article about mental health recovery and you will find a section dedicated to the therapeutic effects of creativity and self-expression. Writing, drawing, painting, and finding self-expression through fashion are all part of a wider list of things that can boost motivation, increase concentration, and produce a stronger sense of self. With things like Art Therapy on the rise, today we are going to take the opportunity to briefly look at how it works, the benefits and the hidden disadvantages.
When suffering from an illness which can leave you feeling stuck in your own brain, expressions of art has the ability to take you outside of yourself. There’s a reason why over 12 million adult colouring books were sold last year alone, and it’s because colouring steals your focus and can calm you down from a heightened state of worry and anxiety. Throughout history, writing as a form of therapy has proven cathartic and healing. In a study where students wrote for 15 minutes on four consecutive days about their most traumatic and painful experiences, they reported four months later that they felt significantly better in both their physical and mental states; in comparison to their counterparts in the same study who wrote about superficial topics and did not experience this (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986).
Painting, drawing, writing are perhaps more typical of the things which come to mind when thinking about self-expression, but a recent article in Vogue challenged this notion and demonstrated how self-care can be found in a simple beauty routine. The writer Simran Randhawa, who has suffered from both eating disorders and depression wrote:
“For me, my beauty ritual exists as a medium I find relief in; whilst I do not wear a full face of make-up every day, sometimes choosing to on a bad day not only helps me feel more put together but is a focus point for my brain. “
In particular, self-expression through fashion can also prove healthy to an individual’s mental health, as it is often through clothing and how people choose to present themselves that they can build their identities, and learn to love themselves. We all have that favourite dress, shoes, shirt or bag that we feel comfortable and confident with don’t we? That can be a positive step towards taking control of one’s self-belief, because feeling comfortable and confident outwardly can positively impact the way in which we perceive ourselves.
An extract from Identities Through Fashion: A Multidisciplinary Approach states that psychiatrists can infer changes in mood and behaviour from changes in patient’s clothing, and it is a big factor in their diagnostic process. However, the same extract states that both an ‘exaggerated interest’ and a complete ‘disinterest’ in fashion are unhealthy. Building a sense of identity, self-esteem and confidence through expressions of art in whatever form that may be, is extremely motivating to those suffering from mental health disorders.
However, caution is needed to ensure one’s self-esteem does not rely on one’s creativity, and that they are not dependent on fashion, or writing or drawing, to feel a sense of fulfilment because this fundamentally comes from oneself.
Like with anything, finding the middle ground and a balanced attitude (which even Islam promotes) is key towards a healthier and more confident lifestyle.
Whether you are someone or know someone who suffers from a mental health disorder whether that be anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or an eating disorder, try finding catharsis in something creative. Find a release through art, through fashion or through writing, reap the therapeutic benefits and let us know how you get on with our hashtag #creativecoping on social media, and be sure to tag us in too! @InspiritedMinds
Written as part of a series on Art and Mental Health this month by Inspirited Minds.