Creativity on Prescription?

When we face uncertainty and situations where we feel out of control our anxiety levels can sky rocket. The unknown can lead to fear, hopelessness, distress, grief can all too easily spiral into depression. 

During this ongoing pandemic our heightened fears about our health and mortality, and that of our families, alongside the sudden financial instability, compounded with stark realities of isolation has lead to more people than ever suffering mental health challenges. I don’t think anyone has escaped this last 15 months without serious bouts of sadness, loss, anxiety, grief and fear of the unknown.

The Police Federation’s lead for coronavirus, Sergeant Simon Kempton, said it was becoming “all too easy for people in crisis to fall through the gaps. It’s going to be vital that we keep an eye on that and there are very early indications of an increase in suicide attempts and suicides.”

That’s pretty sobering reading. There are a lot of people out there now who need support more than ever and that may include ourselves.

But what can we do? How can we help ourselves cope, safeguard our mental health AND lift and protect others during these ongoing challenging times?  

I’ll tell you what we can do! We can bake! We can literally bake ourselves (and others) happy! Who knew!

Baking doesn’t have to be complex or high art. Simply creating and decorating pretty cupcakes to give away will lift your spirits.

As simple as that seems it has been proven that the act of creative practice lifts our mood.

It give us something to focus on, calms our racing minds and even better, as we can gift our bakes we can lift the mood of others too which circles back and makes us double happy! I’m willing to bet you know you like baking or you wouldn’t be following my work. I wonder if you’d realised just how therapeutic your creative outlet is though and the immense positive impact it has on your own mental health?

According to an  American Journal of Public Health study, there’s a connection between creative outlets and your mental and physical health with creativity helping to fill a void in your life as well as distract you from stressful things like work as your focus is absorbed by the task at hand and not wondering off with unhelpful thoughts.  

Research also suggests that taking time to do something you enjoy can lower blood pressure, the stress hormone cortisol and body mass index. It can also reduce your negative thoughts and levels of depression. 

Professor Paul Crawford, from the IMH’s Centre for Social Futures, has pioneered a program titled CPMR  (Creative Practice As Mutual Recovery.)  The programme has demonstrated the power of using creative activities to benefit people experiencing mental health difficulties, as well as benefits to family carers joining them.  

One 5 year CPMR study involving clay found participants became more playful, excited, engaged, and sociable in the workshops, as the clay appeared to offer a trans-linguistic medium for effective peer exchange. The study found clay works as a neutral medium for aiding and facilitating communication skills and offers a three-dimensional form of expression. Working with clay emphasises imagination and voice, as participants become immersed in the process.  Clay also has ‘therapeutic grab and mash’ properties, providing a potential catharsis for people who are otherwise increasingly absorbed by techno-virtual cultures. 

Through art, many people are able to express feelings and experiences that they’re unable to put in to words. This is especially important when dealing with a tragic event or a stressful time in your life. 

Creating simple paintings or even idling away an hour with adult colouring books and pencils all calm the mind and quieten those anxious chains of thought spiralling. It is important time, well spent.

Researchers at the University of Gloucestershire have recently evaluated data from nearly 1,300 primary care patients in South West England, finding a course of arts-on-prescription* to provide a significant improvement in overall wellbeing, including in those with very complex care needs.  

Professor Crone says:  “These non-medical interventions can potentially offer solutions to some of the most challenging issues arising in public health. While wellbeing is often viewed as something intangible, it is a critical issue that is central to supporting physical health,”  

Creativity does not have to involve creating extensive oil paintings and you do not have to start out as an expert sculptor or fine artist to enjoy the mental rewards and health benefits of creativity. Nor do you have to invest in expensive kit or materials.  

The simple task of baking a cake, cupcakes or cookies can be highly creative, totally absorbing and incredibly rewarding.

Not only for yourself but with the added bonus of lifting those you share it with. Baking during times of stress and anxiety can become the perfect virtuous cycle as the act of baking (and decorating) fulfils a creative gap with all the associated mental health benefits AND you also get to pass that warm and fuzzy feeling on to others as well.  

My attempts at cinnamon buns from lockdown 1… they were eaten warm in 5 minutes flat by my very happy family!

Baking with our children became a joyful and educational way to keep them (and us) from climbing the walls then sharing those treats with other family members showed them we cared when we couldn’t hug them. Decorating then delivering cupcakes to the nearest hospital or care home or popping a sponge in the oven then carefully placing it on the doorstep for an isolating elderly neighbours became our national way of dealing with the pandemic.

Felix assured me he didn’t eat ANY……

Did you notice it was the baking aisles that were striped clear as the whole world turned to baking as a way of coping? Amazing really baking helped people feel calm and in control when their world’s were turned upside down and everything they considered normal disappeared. That’s pretty powerful stuff!

According to the research acts of creativity can lift mood, absorb focus, give us physical and mental health improvements and act as a way of communicating our thoughts and feeling when we are struggling. The seemingly simple act of baking a cake and the art of decorating it with love helps improve our mental stability and brings joy to others when we share our creations.  

See everyone loves cake – even our pets!

Baking and decoration really is an incredibly powerful tool – it truly is creativity on prescription.  Best of all? You don’t even need a doctor to prescribe it (it is pretty addictive though so you have been warned!)

Baking requires no special skills, costs very little and absolutely anyone can have a go and instantly feel the benefits. It can be used to support others and show appreciation in times when we are all struggling with our mental health and everyone could use a little lift.

So here’s to baking and cake decorating. The quiet unsung hero in times of crisis.

After all – it isn’t just the cakes that rise is it. With baking – we all do.

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