Resilience Quick Reads: Creativity for Health and Wellbeing
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
Welcome to the next in our series of short blogs to help you stay safe, sane, and supported during the current crisis.
As we continue through lockdown with all the restrictions and frustrations it brings, we need to look at new ways of engaging with life to reconnect with some positive emotions, grow our wellbeing and improve our health and fitness.
Living within a success-driven culture, it can be easy to let creative pursuits slip off the agenda. However, we know that creative activities that allow us to get in ‘the zone’ by focusing on something we love doing, play an important role in building positivity and connection, and calming our stress response.
With International Dance Day yesterday, what better way to kick off an exploration of the benefits of the creative arts for our wellbeing than joining in this global celebration of dance?
UNESCO established awareness days for a range of performing arts back in 1982. Each year for International Dance Day a notable dancer/dance teacher/choreographer is asked to make a statement about dance and its wider role in improving the lives of individuals and the communities they live in.
In this year’s message Gregory Vuyani Maqoma highlights the importance of dance for healing: “As we dance with our bodies, tumbling in space and tangling together, we become a force of movement weaving hearts, touching souls and providing healing that is so desperately needed.”
The impact of dance on our health and wellbeing
Maqoma’s view is supported by research which provides sound evidence for the positive impact of dance and dance movement therapy on our wellbeing and mental health. A review of 23 studies found that engaging in dance improves self-reported quality of life, wellbeing and positive mood, whilst reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
This message might remind you of the film Billy Elliot, in which a troubled 11-year-old boy, growing up amidst the turmoil of pit closures and miners’ strikes, discovers a love for dance and secretly pursues lessons, despite his father’s prejudice against it. Through doing so the young Billy has to overcome multiple barriers including his father’s resistance and hold onto what is important to him. This film neatly illustrates how creative acts can have such an important role in helping us to manage and grow through the challenges of life.
The self-actualising aspect of dance presented in the film is supported by research exploring the impact of social dance on successful ageing. Social dancers were found to experience a number of social, psychological, and health benefits including improved wellbeing and a sense of youthfulness.
How to get involved
As very few of us are Billy Elliots in the making, how can we, dancers and non-dancers alike, engage with dance to grow our own resilience and wellbeing, when we are restricted under lockdown or due to social distancing measures?
Although the lockdown has made it impossible for us to go out to dance or join a dance class, we are fortunately not prevented from doing so in our own homes. And there are many resources available online to help us.
If you fancy getting in touch with your inner pop princess/prince check out Screen on Screen’s daily live classes on Instagram to learn dance routines inspired by stars including Beyoncé, Rihanna and Britney Spears.
English National Ballet are posting full-length ballets that are free to view on Facebook or YouTube for 48 hours in their Wednesday Watch Parties, as well as ballet classes that you can follow at home. There is a chair-based ballet class for people with limited mobility or space, as well as beginners and improvers classes.
If you or your kids are Strictly fans, Oti Mabuse has produced a series of dance classes for adults and children which you can find on her YouTube channel. And the NHS is offering some online dance classes in collaboration with Disney.
If none of these ideas gets your toe tapping, how about just whacking the music up in your kitchen and have a good old boogie your own special way.
Arts in health
So if dancing is not your thing, perhaps consider other forms of creativity that could be equally good for your health and wellbeing:
Singing together is an activity that people have engaged in throughout history and is a good source of comfort and solace in times of hardship. For example, during the current pandemic people in Denmark have been gathering around the television every morning to join in a singing session, known as morning song. Originating during WW2, this type of shared activity brings people together during difficult times to provide a sense of community and support, despite people being isolated from one another.
In a study of 169 participants, researchers found that choral singing provided benefits across multiple domains including self-reported improvements in social, physiological, emotional and cognitive functioning.
Playing or listening to music has also been found to reduce stress and enhance feelings of wellbeing. Music is hugely beneficial to our self-identity, evoking memories and strong associations with our lives, and helping to connect us with other people. In older adults, music has been found to play an important role in helping people manage the challenges of later life, enhancing feelings of competency and independence.
Creative engagement has also been widely researched. This covers a broad spectrum of activities incorporating the creativity of ordinary people – writing a poem for a friend’s birthday, modifying a recipe to include ingredients at hand, or writing a song or story to share with friends or family. Evidence suggests that whether we are young or old, able-bodied or disabled, healthy or facing multiple health challenges, engaging in some form of creativity will help to build resilience.
So if you are struggling with social isolation or other aspects of separation from friends and family, finding an art form that suits you will help you to cope. Making space to be creative, to play and explore new ideas, to get yourself in ‘the zone’, to focus and be interested, will grow positive emotions. And we know that the experience of positive emotions is associated with a calming of the stress response, the maintenance of physical and emotional health, and the ability to brave the storm and emerge resilient once it has passed.
If you found this helpful and would like to find out more about coping in a crisis, check out some of our other blogs in this series. You might also like to join our Facebook group UR Resilient, where members are busy sharing creative and inspiring ideas for staying positive during this challenging time.