Unleash the Picasso Within and Benefit Your Emotional Health

For centuries art has existed as an outlet for people to share ideas, inspire action and pass down personal and cultural stories. Whether you enjoy drawing, painting, music, sculpting, dancing or simply coloring with your crayons, you are not only creating art but also benefiting your mental and emotional health. Studies have found that engaging in artistic activities can increase self-esteem and confidence and reduce anxiety.

According to Michael Friedman, Associate Professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work, “art can also be a healing force for people experiencing a mental illness, helping them connect with and deal with their emotions. Through the arts people can find voices to express dimensions of self usually left in silence.”

In an article he recently wrote on art and mental health, Mr. Friedman refers to the book Flourish by Martin Seligman: “Often regarded as the father of positive psychology, Mr. Seligman maintains that there are five critical elements of psychological well-being, ‘positive emotion,’ ‘engagement,’ ‘accomplishment,’ ‘positive relationships,’ and ‘meaning.’ In simple terms, living well involves feeling good about life, having something to do that you care so much about that you immerse yourself in it, becoming good enough at something to take some pride in it, having people in your life whom you care about and who care about you, and feeling connected with something that takes you beyond yourself, such as your family, your community, your work and so forth. Art can provide each of these elements of well-being.”

Art can also be used to increase understanding about mental illness and reduce the stigma surrounding it. NAMI San Diego held an art benefit show featuring creative pieces made by individuals who were personally impacted by mental illness. Each item represented the artist’s struggles and triumphs over mental illness and was accompanied by a written story about their recovery.

Whatever your reasons may be for participating in or being a spectator of the arts, know that your involvement is having a positive impact on your life. Even if your clay horse looks more like an alligator, you’re still coming out on top.

Searching for a fun, artistic outlet?

  • Community: San Diego Continuing Education has affordable (and often free) art classes with a wide range of opportunities including printmaking, jewelry-making and woodworking.
  • Recreational: Find a local dance or actor’s studio to express yourself through acting, filmmaking or dance.
  • Online: There is an endless supply of art projects on websites such as Pinterest and YouTube. Simply search what you’re looking for or browse the DIY & Crafts section.

“For about a year now, I have been taking drum lessons and playing drums with the worship team at my church,” said Julie Benn, Communications Specialist for NAMI San Diego. “Banging on the drums is not only stress relieving, but creating rhythms and getting to play as part of a team is an amazing balm for my soul. I experience clinical depression and anxiety, but after a drum session my anxieties calm dramatically and are replaced with an uplifting sense of peace, staving off the darkness and despair. I’m blessed to have this opportunity and hope to keep learning and improving so that I can play for many years to come.”