There are some people that think there’s nothing scarier than standing in front of a blank canvas, but in fact, according to a new study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst painting increases the brain’s output of the feel-good chemical dopamine, low levels of which are linked to fear and anxiety. So it stands to reason that instead of fearing the blank canvas, people are increasing using it to conquer their fears. The payoff: study subjects who painted experience a 71 percent greater reduction in fearful thoughts than people who did not partake in creativity activities.
Another study published in the journal Art Therapy, revealed that coloring complex pictures (think adult coloring books) causes the frontal lobe part of the brain that governs cognitive functions to light up, sharpening attention and concentration, and thereby reducing brain fog. Adults experienced significant reductions in anxiety after coloring, which in turn led to an increased ability to focus.
According to a study in the peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal Plos One, sketching for 20 minutes a day can also help calm anxiety. It seems the repetitive motion of moving a pencil across paper triggers the relaxation response, a deep form of rest in which your pulse slows and your brain generates calming alpha waves, thus lowering the body’s stress response by up to 45 percent.
More and more neuroscience is pointing to a surprising antidote for stress: creativity! “Creative activities are stress busters in the same way that meditation is,” says Robert Reiner, Ph.D., a psychologist with New York University.