Increasing Creativity for Mental Wellness


It seems that everywhere you look, there is some form of creative expression, from the food hacks and pallet furniture on Pinterest to new technologies ranging from gadgets to apps. We know how important creativity is in culture and business, but can this kind of thinking also improve mental health?

In the world of creativity research, there is an idea that there are two types of creativity. Big C Creativity is the type we see in artists like Picasso and Georgia O’Keefe or authors like Shakespeare and Toni Morrison. Then, there is little c creativity; the kind exemplified by parents who make stellar home-made  Halloween costumes and your aunt who knits the most luxurious scarves. The bottom line is that everyone is creative in some way, and everyone is capable of creative thinking and problem-solving. This is important because creative practices can improve cognitive capabilities, help us de-stress, and give us an overall sense of well-being.  The best part is that creativity is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you work it.

So how can you bulk up your creative abilities?  Below are several simple practices to add to your daily life:

Write it out!!
Freewriting or any hand-written journaling can prompt greater creativity. Hand-writing also gives you the freedom to write wherever you like. In Julia Cameron’s seminal work, The Artist’s Way, she suggested starting the day by writing a few pages in a journal. She recommended stream of consciousness writing in which you just put onto paper everything that is in your mind as it comes to you. This practice can be a quick way of jumpstarting creativity and can also be an excellent way to clear mental clutter. This type of freewriting is valuable because it allows you to get ideas on paper that you may not be prepared to thoroughly explain but don’t want to forget.

Why it works: When you write your thoughts out by hand, the action coordinates the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Additionally, the slower process of writing (rather than typing) means that parts of your brain that don’t otherwise get activated, light up! In fact, this activity uses more of your brain than typing.  So pick up that pen, even if it’s only to revise your list of weekly goals!

Explore a Different Domain
Sometimes expertise in a specific area can inhibit creativity. Consider stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something completely new. If you are an electrician who has never written a poem, pen a few Haiku.

If you have never tried to play music, consider learning an instrument or take a cooking class if you are known as the person who can’t even make toast.

Why it works: Research into creativity has demonstrated that novel experiences can be tremendously inspiring.  In addition, there is the idea of confluence. The term confluence is defined as the junction of two rivers, but in creativity, it points to the freshness of perspective that is realized when two unique ways of thinking or areas of expertise converge. Finally, neuroplasticity, the way that experience causes the brain to adapt, is impacted by new experiences. As we learn about a new domain, we develop new neural pathways.

Get Moving
You know that exercise is good for you. What you may not know is that some of the most creative people in our history counted on the movement of the body to facilitate movement of the mind. Some famous folks who swore by exercise for productivity were Henry David Thoreau, Charles Dickens, Steve Jobs, and Albert Einstein. Consider making your next meeting a walking meeting or spending your lunch getting some steps in. You might be surprised by the ideas and solutions that come to you, seemingly out of nowhere.  Focus on whatever is in the distance and head towards it. Walking clears the head, reduces stress, and improves thinking.

Why it works: According to a 2013 study, in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, routine exercise leads to cognitive enhancement, improving the two types of thinking that make up creative thinking. Divergent thinking involves coming up with several possible solutions to a problem, and convergent thinking focuses on a few solid options rather than generating lots of them. Divergent thinking such as brainstorming is useful in the early stages of a project and convergent helps you refine the best options that were generated during the divergent stage. Using these two ways of thinking together leads to innovative solutions.

Doodle Away
Have you ever been seated next to a doodler at a meeting? It can be irritating or intriguing, but what you probably didn’t realize as you watched them draw endless loops and cubes on a notebook page or handout, is that those senseless little scribbles were helping them boost creativity. Next time you are attending a webinar or lecture, try doodling as you listen, as research has shown that this activity improves focus and understanding of new concepts. Doodling helps students bridge the gap between too much and too little listening while attending a lecture,  simultaneously making the brain more receptive to new concepts and information.

Why it works: This seemingly insignificant practice increases the flow of blood through the prefrontal cortex, which is the region of the brain thought to be responsible for things like complex cognitive behavior and decision making. Doodling has even been linked to higher brain activity levels in artists.

Creativity is not the exclusive domain of artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and poets, whether you make origami memorial cranes out of photos of your deceased pets or beautifully bejeweled flash drives, you can freely claim your creativity. Being creative is for everyone, and it will boost your brain and your mood.


About Behavioral Health Professionals, Inc.:

Established in 2002 and headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, BHPI is a Managed Behavioral Health Organization offering behavioral health services through a fully integrated network of world-class healthcare providers.  Our emphasis is on adding value for our customers by offering expert behavioral care management, medical coordination, chronic behavioral condition management. We are a fully accredited NCQA Managed Behavioral Health Organization (MBHO) & CARF Behavioral Health Business Network. BHPI offers collaborative solutions by building strong partnerships with health plans, health systems, community mental health organizations, and employer groups.   

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