By Anna Kubiak
December 2, 2021
As a student already managing a heavy course load, have you ever considered taking an art class? The strain of college can often dissuade non-art majors from even considering taking an art class, however research shows that adding an extra art class may not cause more stress, and in fact can be responsible for having the opposite effect, increasing a student’s sense of positivity and well-being.
An article published in the Journal of American Art Therapy Association examined this theory in a study designed to measure the cortisol levels, an indicator of stress, in 39 healthy adults before and after working on an art project. It found that those who participated in the study had significantly lower levels of cortisol and described their experiences as relaxing, enjoyable, and freeing.
Cortisol is a primary stress hormone and is responsible for increasing glucose in the bloodstream, which in turn shuts down functions the body deems as non-essential. This hormone’s release is necessary when we are presented with life and death situations. However, when we are placed under prolonged stress, such as that created by a college schedule, this stress reaction can have potentially harmful effects on the human body and can contribute to health concerns like sleeping problems, concentration impairment, muscle tension and pain, and anxiety.
Art can reduce measurable levels of stress by allowing the brain to switch out of the highly analytical left brain thinking that allows us to process logical problems and excel at subjects like math, and into the right brain mode of thinking. This mode takes a more creative approach and allows the brain to create new connections.
Art can also be responsible for creating a ‘flow’ mindset. Sometimes referred to as being in the zone, the flow allows you to fully immerse yourself in what you are doing without impending stress from external sources.
Other research conducted on the health benefits of art found that practicing art increased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex or the reward center of the brain. This means that art is a way of releasing the tension created by stress and works to stimulate enjoyment instead. The philosophy that art can be beneficial to your health is consistently shared by the art faculty at GCC, including Professor Heather Jones, who encourages her students to consider the idea of adding art classes to their semesters as a way to support mental health.
“Most academic courses dominantly utilize left brain thinking. Art predominantly utilizes right hemisphere thinking. This offers students a mental break from the left brain work and gives an opportunity to strengthen the brain in a well-rounded way,” Professor Jones said as she explained her stance on the subject.
When asked which form of art is the most beneficial for students to take, Professor Jones said, “Any art process that a student finds most enjoyable and motivational. This varies for different people. There are interesting psychological studies that have proven that the process of coloring or shading has similar benefits to meditation for the brain. These studies promote the benefits of the mindful coloring books for adults.”
Art can be widely defined as any expression of human creative skill and imagination. This provides leeway for people to choose the form of art that works for them personally. Additionally, there is even a place for those who avoid art because they don’t feel they are good enough at it. One of the largest reasons that people stay away from art classes is an underlying fear that they are not ‘artists’ or talented enough to qualify, however, Professor Jones states that, “art is a skill that takes practice.” “Like reading, writing or math, the more you practice the easier it gets. Be patient with yourself as you strengthen your skills. Stay open minded to learning new techniques to improve the creative process. Art can be a great career or a beneficial hobby throughout a lifetime,” she went on to say.
Even those without art-based aspirations experience the benefits of art both in the form of classes as well as personal hobbies. For those considering taking an art class as a part of their semester, further research suggests that adding an art class can enhance concentration and help the brain create abstract connections.
While the idea of adding an additional class to a semester may seem daunting, the health benefits that are associated with art classes present an opportunity to prioritize creating time for art-based activities. Adding an art class has the potential to improve mental health as well as reduce stress and offer a break to the overworked left brain.