I think we can all agree that us college students have quite the full plate. If you’re anything like me, your planner is colored front to back with a plethora of deadlines, to-do lists, meeting times, etc. I’ve come to find that if I’m not drowning in schoolwork or other tasks, I’m using any ounce of free time I can grasp to rest. As STEM majors, we rarely encounter assignments that require our creative genius and this can easily add to the burnout that most of us feel, especially this break-less semester. As important as it is to keep up with schoolwork, it is just as important that we have a creative outlet that stimulates our minds in a way that relieves our daily stresses.
There have been countless studies that suggest many benefits of incorporating creative outlets like art, music, and creative writing into your routine. In one study, undergraduate students experienced a decrease in test-taking anxiety when engaging in various visual art techniques such as free painting, pottery, and drawing. The study also explains that engaging in artistic tasks promotes a “flow” state, which is a state of mental focus. This flow state not only aids in limiting outside distractions and thoughts that cause stress, but also enhances creativity and helps improve mood. Creative writing is also another outlet that can be used for self-expression and as a healthy way to manage negative emotions or experiences. Each day brings its own fair share of stresses that can crowd the mind, so being able to transfer those thoughts on paper can be especially helpful in maintaining a more positive mindset. The evidence for the benefits of exercising your right brain is promising; creativity truly is key!
Though the odds of becoming the next Picasso or Shakespeare are not the highest, there are so many simple ways to get our creative juices flowing. One way I love to exercise my right brain is by watercolor painting. I’ve always loved art, so over quarantine, I decided to learn how to use watercolors. Painting is such a fun and relaxing way for me to clear my mind of the things that bring me stress or anxiety. Art does not require a whole lot of skill by any means; simply take pen to paper and see where your mind takes you. If you’ve ever found yourself doodling on the margins of your notes, you’ve already engaged in relaxing the mind through even the simplest drawings. When I first started painting, I often found myself intimidated by the blank paper that sat before me. I’ve come to find that simply using a reference photo, going for it, and letting the brush do the work does the trick. In no way do you need to be a professional to reap the benefits of engaging in creative activities!
Art should be an activity that alleviates stress, not add to it! Here are a few personal tips for when you’re getting ready to sit down and get creative:
Pick a quiet, clean space, play your favorite relaxing music, and stay of your phone as much as possible
Avoid trying to fix mistakes by erasing or starting over; there are no mistakes in art!
Try your best not to set expectations for yourself or your art. Trust the creative process and see where the pencil or brush takes you!
The possibilities for creativity are endless and you certainly do not have to limit yourself to coming up with your own works. Adults coloring books and paint-by-number kits also have the same positive effects as drawing or painting free-handedly. In general, I just encourage you to set aside time for yourself to do something that makes you happy, even if it's only for 20 minutes. Grades are important, but your mental and emotional health is just as important (if not more!). From one tired student to another, keep pushing! Your hard work is paying off and you’re doing amazing!