7:10 Series of Habit Hacks for an Improved Lifestyle: SELF-EXPRESS

Thank you to every person dedicating his or her time reading this article. Often when we surrender in discouragement we release the blockades that have confined us into the corner. Of course, there are easier ways to speed this process up: S U R R E N D E R.

To What? To Whom? When? How?  STOP. Those questions, while valid, are attempts to control. R E L E A S E. Breathe. 

# 7 SELF-EXPRESS

My childhood consisted of weekly ballet classes and craft projects on the weekends. I lost count the amount of times my sisters and I would make salt dough (non-toxic version of play-doh *tip for moms) and create figurines, dinnerware, and formless 'art' pieces. As the years progressed, the fun subsided and stress settled in. My high school viewed AutoCAD and AutoDesk (digital engineering programs) sufficient for creative art classes. The next time I picked up a coloring book was in college and I could not place the pure ecstasy I felt expressing myself through my inner child. 

A study by the American Journal of Public Health focused on four areas of creativity: music engagement, visual arts, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing and their relation to patients' healing process. "Art can be a refuge from the intense emotions associated with illness...The relaxation and symptom reduction produced by creative expression opened pathways to emotional healing." The study concludes that Music therapy reduces serum cortisol levels and enhances well-being; Visual Arts therapy significantly reduces physical and emotional distress in female cancer patients; Movement-based therapy exhibits a positive relationship to expanding consciousness and raising self-awareness; Expressive writing reduces physician visits and improves immune system functioning. 

A study from the University of Auckland, New Zealand documented the results of expressive writing, about emotional topics versus neutral, on participants with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The study tracked patients after establishing a baseline at two weeks, three months, and six months and discovered a direct correlation to the relative drop in HIV viral load with an increase in CD4+ lymphocyte count. Patients suffering from HIV may highly benefit from emotional writing to reduce symptoms and overall improve their physical condition. 

The MayoClinic conducted studies that proposed participating in creative arts, especially for older adults, postpones a decline in cognitive function. The American Academy of Neurology states, "Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age.” Constructing a "cognitive reserve" through new channels of self-expression enhances and protects brain function. 

Buffalo State University published a study on the intimate connection between creativity and wellness. It examined how personal holistic wellness practices cultivated increases in creative expression and vice versa. At the end of the six week experiment, participants produced significant lifestyle changes, generated a balanced approach to priorities and time management, and developed insights towards personal, familial, and career goals. "The experience deepened personal skills in creative thinking, Creative Problem Solving, affective thinking, intuition and mindfulness, as well as forged additional steps on a path towards self-actualization and transformational leadership." Our tools for stress reduction and brain enrichment are more accessible than perceived; preventative medicine in its simplest terms is to have fun.

Self-expression through content creation via channels like photography, painting, drawing, writing, dancing, acting, or pottery all play a pivotal role in our well-being. I urge us to take a break during our lunchtime to fully immerse in a song or doodle our hearts' desire after mindfully enjoying our meal. I encourage us to plan ahead and include an hour of creativity into our week's agenda. Experience immediate stress relief in the body and invest in our "cognitive reserve." Transformation occurs when conscious decisions for improvements are followed up with minor routine shifts.  

National Center for Biotechnology Information

Sources:

Malchiodi, Cathy. "Creativity as a Wellness Practice." Psychology Today. (2015).

Stuckey, Heather and Nobel, Jeremy. "The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature." American Journal of Public Health. (2010).

Petrie, Fontanilla, Thomas, et al. "Effect of Written Emotional Expression on Immune Function in Patients with Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection: A Randomized Trial." Department of Health Psychology, Faculty of Medical and Health Science, University of Auckland, New Zealand. (Auckland, 2004). 

Quarrie, Jennifer A., "The Symbiosis of Creativity and Wellness: A Personal Journey" Buffalo State University. (2015, page 238).

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