Dog Collage Artwork painted by Julie Jones

Prioritizing mental health through creativity

Unlocking the art of living

Story by Michelle Maldonado

In the grand orchestra of life, where we often focus on the well-being of our bodies, it’s easy to forget that our brains are the true conductors of this symphony. In a world perpetually buzzing with activity, it becomes imperative to nurture our mental health. The brain, often likened to the CEO of our body, wields profound influence. If the CEO falters, the entire organization feels the tremors. So, what’s the secret to maintaining a healthy brain? It’s surprisingly simple: embrace creativity. Remarkably, science supports this notion, highlighting a myriad of scientifically proven benefits that come from incorporating creativity into our lives.

Your brain’s silent plea: Feed me creativity

Engaging in daily creative pursuits such as music, art, dance and more can bestow lasting health benefits upon us. The science behind this revelation is both fascinating and affirming. According to Harvard Health, when you listen to music or sing, your brain releases oxytocin, affectionately dubbed the “love hormone.” This hormone wields the power to counteract stress, reducing anxiety, blood pressure and cortisol levels while promoting healing, restoration and growth.

Art, too, leaves an indelible imprint on brain function. It alters brainwave patterns, stirs emotions and influences the nervous system by increasing serotonin release. Beyond its reputation as the “happy hormone,” serotonin impacts our mood, digestion, nausea, sleep, wound healing, bone health and sexual health. Astonishingly, a study by University College London revealed that gazing at artwork increased brain blood flow almost as much as gazing at a loved one.

The art world beckons

But don’t just take our word for it; consider the experiences of Hilton Head Island’s Julie Jones, a lifelong artist who finds unbridled happiness in her craft. For Julie, art is a daily ritual, a lifeline to joy and an antidote to moodiness. Whether it’s the delight her art brings others or the serene act of creation, Julie has firsthand knowledge of the manifold ways in which art enriches a healthier lifestyle.

“Art makes me happy, and when I go days without it, I notice how much unhappier and moody I get,” Jones said. 

Hilton Head Island artist Julie Jones with a piece of her artwork
Hilton Head Island artist Julie Jones prefers to paint with oils for their smooth, blending quality but occasionally paints in acrylics as well. Her paintings can be found in hotels, businesses and in private collections across the country.

Dance through life 

Art comes in various forms, and it’s not confined to painting alone. Alina Schroyer and Paul Haddad, proprietors of Fred Astaire Dance Studios on Hilton Head Island, have discovered their artistic outlet on the dance floor. Teaching dance styles from the waltz to the mambo, they’ve witnessed the transformative power of dance in individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Studies have shown dancing uplifts mood, boosts brain activity, enhances physical health and fortifies personal relationships.

“Just teaching and dancing with our students while watching them smile and laugh is an outlet for us; their feeling of freedom and joy brings us joy,” Schroyer said. “We get called marriage counselors, because there are couples who come in and develop this different sort of intimacy while dancing. Everyone here is like a family. It’s not about learning the steps, it’s about coming in to have a good time and enjoy yourself.” 

Alina Schroyer and Paul Haddad, dancers, Hilton Head Island
As a husband and wife who met on the dance floor, Paul Haddad and Alina Schroyer strive to create lasting memories in and out of Fred Astaire Dance Studios on Hilton Head Island. They have been professionally teaching and choreographing dances for many years and love to make every dance unique and a lasting, joyous experience.

Creativity is the cure  

If the words of researchers and local enthusiasts don’t suffice, consider the testimony of Amy Hautman Bates, an art therapist in Bluffton. Introduced to the art world by her artist mother, she has seen remarkable transformations in people through creative expression. Art, in her view, opens a gateway to a different way of being — a respite from the mind’s habitual ruts. Art also offers a validation of emotions, providing a nonverbal outlet for feelings of anger, sadness, joy and more. It serves as a lifeline, especially for those who struggle to articulate their emotions or thoughts.

“Art opens us up to another way of being in the world,” Amy said. “We tend to walk through life in a sort of trance-like state with the habitual things we’ve been taught to do. So any form of creative expression opens us up to another way of being.”

Amy underscores that it’s never too late to embrace art. Art therapy welcomes individuals of all ages, including dementia patients. It awakens dormant aspects of the mind, enabling the expression of inner thoughts and feelings that elude words. It fosters a sense of belonging and comfort.

Amy Hautman Bates painting on an easel
Besides painting, Amy Hautman Bates works as a board-certified art therapist and psychotherapist. Her painting studio is in Bluffton, where she lives with her husband, musician Rog Bates.

Embarking on your creative journey

Amy’s words resonate deeply: “Any form of art creates a nest, a place where you can sink in and be home in your heart.” In a chaotic world creative outlets ground us, preventing us from being swept away. Starting may feel daunting, but as Nike advises, “Just do it.” Here are some tips to unleash your creative self:

Explore: Try different art forms until you discover the one that resonates with you. Online tutorials can provide a glimpse into the craft you’re interested in.

Music: Listen to music or explore making music, whether through instruments or singing.

Reading: Join a book club or simply savor your favorite genre.

Art/crafts: Experiment with drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture and other creative endeavors.

Photography: Capture moments that bring you joy, and display them as art.

Writing: Engage in poetry, storytelling or journaling.

Dance/movement: Take a dance class or dance freely to your favorite music.

Remember, the key is to have fun and discover what brings joy to your life — because you deserve it. Embrace the art of living, where creativity is the canvas on which you paint your well-being.

The door is like a portal for travel. Portal to other dimensions. Surrealistic creative work about future travels. The man with the suitcase walks towards the gate in the doorway. Fast travel

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