How creating art can help improve mental health during the pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Many people’s mental health has been impacted by the pandemic, and a Jenkintown art therapist said creating art can help change that.

The end of the pandemic is something that is not solid. It’s a goal post that may keep moving for a while, and for that reason, licensed professional counselor and registered art therapist Bob O’Brien said art can help soothe us because we are looking for something with an end.

“Here’s this thing that I can do that has a beginning, a middle and an end. And I can increase my esteem and effectiveness when It’s done and in that way I’m creating something that has a resolution,” he explained.

O’Brien said some people may think art is hard, but art can be anything, including writing, sewing, painting, photography or singing — activities that release dopamine, “which is a really, really good, antidepressant.”

And there’s more: planning to walk to the post office, writing a long letter to a friend and sending it by snail mail can be considered art, and the repetition of “making” or “creating” is similar to mindfulness and meditation.

“Art making, whether in the context of therapy or in our own pursuits, is something that has been proven scientifically to have really calming effects on the brain and the body,” O’Brien said.

He also said one of the changes that the pandemic has made is removing faces from our lives, because we are all wearing masks. Those connections are the glue that hold us together and right now, they are limited in a very big way.

“Having a feature of our usual visual connection with people covered, not being able to see facial expressions, those can be really difficult and have a deleterious impact on our mood.”

The pandemic, he said, has forced us to rearrange our lives, and if we use creativity or art as a goal, we can make these adjustments and get through this very fluid time period.