Making Art Can Reduce Stress Hormone Levels – Even if You Suck At It

Getting your creative juices flowing could be the perfect way to chill out. Karramba Production/Shutterstock

Whether you’re a skilled sculptor or you struggle with coloring in the lines, making art for just 45 minutes could help to reduce your stress hormone levels, according to new research. Though the team behind the study were unsurprised to find that creative activities helped to soothe their subjects, they were somewhat shocked to discover that even those who totally suck at art seemed to experience the same benefit as accomplished artists.

To conduct their study, the researchers recruited 39 participants of varying artistic capabilities, who were invited to take part in 45 minutes of art-making using a range of materials such as clay, markers and collage. Each volunteer was completely free to use these resources as they wished, with no rules or guidelines.

Both before and after the session, the study authors took a sample of participants’ "creative juices" in the form of saliva. By analyzing these samples, the team were able to determine how the art-making affected each person’s level of salivary cortisol – a hormone that is strongly associated with stress.

In doing so, they discovered that 75 percent of participants experienced a reduction in cortisol levels after the 45-minute session. However, while the study authors had expected to find this effect to be particularly noticeable in experienced artists, their results actually showed no correlation between artistic ability and the degree to which cortisol levels dropped.

In a statement, study co-author Girija Kaimal explained that the outcome of the experiment “was surprising and also it wasn’t,” adding that “it wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience [of making art].”

While conducting their study – which appears in the journal Art Therapy – the team also asked participants to provide written descriptions of their experiences. Interestingly, the researchers found that those who claimed to have “learnt about new aspects of [their] self” through their art, as well as those who described “an evolving process of initial struggle to later resolution,” tended to show the biggest drops in cortisol levels.

This provides some fascinating insights into how certain experiences are related to changes in cortisol levels and stress reduction, although further research is needed in order to fully understand this relationship.

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