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In the hustle of life, it’s easy for our mental and emotional health to take a backseat. Most of us get sidetracked by errands, job duties, kids, cooking—the list goes on. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study reports that, even in dual-income households, “women spent about forty-eight more minutes in household activities and eighteen more minutes caring for household members than did men” per day. As the numbers indicate, life can get pretty crazy. How can we possibly squeeze in self-care?

Luckily, creative activities are literally therapy for your mind. Whether it’s writing, baking, gardening, sewing, or playing music, a creative outlet can really improve your mental clarity. And if Martha Stewart isn’t your spirit animal, hobbies such as reading and listening to music count, too.

The beauty of creating is that it doesn’t have to be elaborate or groundbreaking. It can be just about whatever you want, as long as it’s unrelated to work inside or outside the home. Here are five ways that creativity can be the key to better mental and emotional health.

01. It relieves stress.

Ever get lost in knitting, journaling, or sketching? CNN reports that creative activities impact the body in a way similar to meditation. It’s like yoga for your brain.

Decreasing stress protects your overall health and wellness. According to the American Journal of Public Health, numerous chronic diseases, including heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s, are associated with high stress levels. Of course, other factors such as diet and exercise matter, too. But when it comes to caring for your brain, less stress is best.

You don’t even need to produce something in order to de-stress. The AJPH mentions that simply observing creativity decreases psychological stress. We’re talking attending a concert, checking out a museum, or reading Verily. These allow you to bask in the creativity of others while reaping their meditative benefits.

Give yourself permission and time to get lost in the process. Schedule in creative activities, or else they might not happen. When you do, take a break from screen time by setting aside your phone or computer. Don’t stress yourself out by feeling like you need to make a perfect piece of art. Your freshly baked cupcakes or newly finished scarf may not look Pinterest-worthy, but the finished product isn’t the point; it’s the process. Savor the moment, and have fun with it.

02. It increases and renews brain function.

It’s no secret that work and school projects exercise our critical thinking skills. But when it comes to creative endeavors, we nurture different areas of the brain in new ways. CNN reports that engaging in creative tasks protects neuron growth by promoting the production of new neurons, which are crucial for maintaining a healthy central nervous system.

Creative activities also help the brain recover after illness, injury, or stress, according to the Croatian Medical Journal: “Various artistic disciplines have helped patients with diverse disorders that include developmental or acquired, medical, and/or psychiatric conditions.” CNN also reports that people who take on craft-based projects in midlife and older have a 45 percent less chance of developing cognitive issues such as dementia.

Because emotional and physical challenges, such as breakups and getting sick, are normal parts of life, embracing your artsy side is an accessible, natural remedy. Consult Pinterest for inexpensive and beginner-friendly inspiration, such as our statement-collar tee DIY, hosting a flower arranging party, or giving your entry hall a Kate Spade–inspired makeover.

03. It can help prevent Alzheimer’s.

Our bodies change as we get older; our minds are no exception. Though we can’t stop the aging process, we can certainly take preventative measures to ward off illnesses linked to old age.

When it comes to mental health, Alzheimer’s is at the top of the list. This progressive degenerative brain condition is associated with people ages 65 and older. This might seem like a long way off, but habits in our twenties and thirties can set the tone for the future of our mental health. According to the Public Library of Science, making art improves communication between different parts of the brain, which is vital to preventing cognitive deterioration. PLOS also discovered that creative acts exercise our medial temporal lobes, which are responsible for memory-making. As a result, our memory can be enhanced and improved.

When it comes to creating, this makes sense. The process of producing something requires remembering small bits of information in order to move to the next step. This is true for any kind of creative process, whether you’re making breakfast, learning a piece of music, or embellishing your shoes.

Word to the wise: Warding off Alzheimer’s doesn’t stop at the hot glue gun. Healthy habits such as getting enough sleep and eating a well-balanced diet are also necessary. Pair these with tapping in to your creative side, and you could prevent the slow and sneaky process of brain degeneration. That’s empowering.

04. It improves mood.

It’s not uncommon to feel down in the dumps from time to time, especially during periods of hardship and transition. Thankfully, from simple doodling to singing your favorite song, moments of intentional creativity can come to the rescue no matter your current lot in life.

Creative activities have been shown to improve overall emotional health. The AJPH notes that creativity increases our control over emotional pain and depression. This is due to the self-reflection and greater understanding of oneself that often comes with making. You’re connecting with yourself in a way that you couldn’t otherwise. Similarly, PLOS found that creative activities can mold personality traits—known as “psychological resilience”—in a way that helps you handle outside stressors.

Another study by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy peeked into the minds of 3,500 knitters worldwide. “The results show a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy,” the study reports. “More frequent knitters also reported higher cognitive functioning.” That’s knit. I mean, neat!

05. It cultivates your social life.

A healthy social life is essential to our well-being, period. It’s exactly what a person needs to fill her heart—and mind—with positivity and affirmation. Without a solid community, it’s easy for our mental health to crumble.

People bond through common experiences and interests. The British Journal of Occupation Therapy study reports, “Knitting in a group impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact, and communication with others. Conclusion: Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to well-being and quality of life.”

Socializing over creative acts promotes more than happiness; studies indicate it promotes health, too. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health reports that socially active elders experience a slower rate of memory loss than those who aren’t: “In fact, memory decline among the most integrated was less than half the rate among the least integrated.” Similarly, CNN reports that elders who socialize are also 55 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. Notice a trend? These findings suggest preventative measures against symptoms linked with Alzheimer’s. So, make it a lifelong mission to take advantage of the socializing benefits of creative acts.

Along with a healthy lifestyle, these five mental and emotional benefits play a huge role in achieving long-term wellness. Hopefully, this inspires you to pick up a pen or paintbrush. Start small, and let your creative power run wild—every little bit counts.

Photo Credit: Laura Hershey Photography