A Physician Explains How Creativity Can Help You Be Healthier
Have you ever come down with feelings of exhaustion or sickness, like a sore throat, when you’ve felt sad or stressed? It might seem a little hippie-dippy, but your emotions have a ton to do with how you feel physically. We reached out to Dr. Chris Gilbert, the author of The Listening Cure: Healing Secrets of an Unconventional Doctor ($17) to explain why this happens. She also gave us six creative hobbies that’ll help you safely express your emotions to feel better faster. Read on for a happier, healthier, more creative you!
The Connection Between Your Emotions and Physical Symptoms
Dr. Gilbert explained that studies show that 80 percent of primary care office visits are for symptoms that — wait for it — are ultimately traceable to emotional problems. “When we’re stressed out and have repressed emotions, the body secretes more cortisol. This causes the immune system to weaken and the body to release more adrenaline, which causes blood vessels to narrow,” she explains. “The consequence is that we get sick more easily, and suffer more from conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and autoimmune problems.”
She says this is the reason that expressing your emotions in a healthy way is key, whether it’s sadness over a heart-wrenching breakup, disappointment about something that didn’t go as you hoped it might, or work stresses. “To avoid harming our bodies in the first place (and to recover after we get sick), it’s really helpful to vent,” Dr. Gilbert says. She references research by neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman from UCLA to further explain the potential harm of bottling up your feelings. “Dr. Lieberman showed that when we verbally express strong emotions, activity of our amygdala (the part of your brain associated with the stress response) decreases.” What’s more, the Harvard School of Public Health reinforces Lieberman’s findings with evidence that shows that people who openly express their feelings are healthier than those who habitually suppress strong emotions. Wow!
How to Creatively Express Your Emotions
So how can creativity help heal, exactly? Dr. Gilbert quotes Indian spiritual master Meher Baba, who said, “Art is one of the sources through which the soul expresses itself.” In other words, she tells us, “Art is an external representation of internal emotions. When internal emotions are externalized as art, especially painting, dancing, singing, and instrumental music, inner conflicts that suppressed these emotions are lessened, and physiological stress responses —such as chronic over-secretion of cortisol and adrenaline — are greatly reduced.” Think of art as a way to release tension and let your feelings out. Amazing, right? Here’s are some of Dr. Gilbert’s go-to activities:
1. Write. “Use a journal or diary to write down how you’re feeling,” Dr. Gilbert advises. “You’ll immediately feel better expressing those feelings, even privately, and your health will likely improve.”
2. Sing. Singing is a proven brain booster, and Dr. Gilbert agrees that it has positive powers. “Find a spot where nobody can hear you and sing at the top of your lungs!” she says. “Sing your frustration, sing your anger or sadness; make up lyrics and scores that match your mood. If you’re like many of my patients, doing this will lessen your pain and strengthen your immune system.” Like we needed a reason to blast that brand new Tay Swift song…
3. Play an instrument. Whether you’re an old pro or would like to learn, spending time with an instrument can bring major benefits. “Create music from scratch and try to express your mood,” Dr. Gilbert suggests.
4. Dance. Create the perfect playlist to match your mood, and dance away every emotion that comes to you. Not only will you express your feelings in a totally healthy way, but you’ll also sneak in some exercise. Bring on the endorphins!
5. Draw or paint. “Be aware of the physical pain you feel inside your body. Can you draw or paint it?” Dr. Gilbert asks. “See if you feel better after you put your pencil, pen, or brush on the paper.”
6. Take a walk. “As a physician, I’ve found that many times, what you’re drawn to has a lot in common with how you feel,” Dr. Gilbert notes. “When you take a walk, make it a point to note what your eyes look to; it could be a cloud in the sky, a flower, a tree — whatever you see, give it a voice in the first person and describe how it feels. Try, ‘I am this cloud in the sky, big, pushed by wind. I feel…” She tells us that while it might feel funny at first, expressing your feelings like this can help make your body stronger.
Tell us how creativity keeps you happy and healthy @BritandCo!
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