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Healing Arts

I don’t know about you but I get quite reflective around my birthday (tomorrow!) And this week has been particularly insightful. I find myself having a heightened sense of awareness and a renewed enthusiasm to do things that I haven’t tried yet or revisit things that I enjoy.

Today I went to the Barnes Foundation on the Parkway in Philadelphia. I had gone to the original gallery in Merion where it was originally located and of course to the beautiful new building just past the Free Library of Philadelphia. But it had been a while.

I was always intrigued by Dr. Barnes acquisition of some of the most recognizable impressionist and expressionist artists in the world, including Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, Soutine, Van Gogh, and Modigliani. I did not quite get the breadth of his collection the first few times I had been there. Perhaps it was the length of time spent there today, and that the galleries weren’t too crowded. Or perhaps it was the docent who shared so much information about Dr. Barnes, the initial acquisitions (Matisse) and the movements themselves in which these artists thrived. I felt so stimulated by the experience, and without any stress.

It was a delightful few hours, and it got me thinking about the arts and self-care. I find that when I listen to live music, go to an art museum, engage in some type of dance, I feel pretty good. I am by no means an artist, but I definitely have an appreciation for the arts and it is also something more. I just feel better when I am absorbed by a creative process, whether actively engaging or observing. Is there any science to back this up?

Yes, there is. There are direct correlations between engagement with the arts as a creator or just an observer, to mood enhancement and positive emotions as a result. There is also evidence that we also gain physiological benefits from this connection.

Today, with heart disease and diabetes being two major chronic conditions for many people, it is no wonder that often they experience stress and depression as part of the baggage. However, it has been documented that engagement with creative activities reduces or alleviates these psychological conditions.

There was a study conducted between 2015 and 2016 of 24 cancer patients who engaged in appreciation of famous visual artists over a period of several weeks and partook in creating their own artwork. The premise was to see if this would help reduce the patients distress around cancer, and reduce their anxiety and depression. The study measured the patients with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), and Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS) at the beginning, the middle and the end of the 8 sessions they participated in. The outcomes for the 20 who completed all eight sessions showed a significant reduction in severe anxiety and depression during the treatment time.

Another study that focused on the connection between art and healing identified (4) areas that were most impactful. These were expressive writing, dance and movement, the visual arts and music engagement.

Music appreciation is probably the most accessible and therefore most relatable. It was found that auditory stimulation helps manage pain, reduce anxiety and contribute to an increased functioning of the immune system. Not bad, huh?

Many people with cancer turn to the visual arts as a means of understanding this painful experience and integrating it into their life story.

When it came to the movement therapy, there have been reports that women in midlife who are grappling with many unsettling changes, are better able to deal with them through the increased self-awareness that dance can bring. Senior women who participated in Tai Chi movements felt more stable and less frail for having done so.

As for expressive writing as a vehicle of self-care, anyone who has written about their personal trauma has exhibited improved physical health, less visits to the doctor and increased immune response. I can speak to this from personal experience, as I have found that journaling every day has had a very calming, enlightening and spiritual awakening for me. I highly encourage you to try it.

I hope you have something creative to do or share in your life. Perhaps it is a favorite music program that comes on in the evening, or maybe you craft, or create vision boards. Whatever it is you do, keep it up. It is good for you.

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