London | Making art can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in your body, no matter what your skill level is, researchers including one of Indian-origin have found. Though researchers believed that past experience in creating art might amplify the activity’s stress-reducing effects, their study found that everyone seems to benefit equally. It was surprising and it also was not.
It was not surprising because that is the core idea in art therapy – everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting, said Girija Kaimal from Drexel University in the UK. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience, said Kaimal. Biomarkers are biological indicators (like hormones) that can be used to measure conditions in the body, such as stress.
Cortisol was one such the hormone measured in the study through saliva samples, researchers said. The higher a person’s cortisol level, the more stressed a person is likely to be, they said.
For the study, 39 adults, ranging from 18 to 59 years old, were invited to participate in 45 minutes of art-making. Cortisol levels were taken before and after the art-making period. Materials available to the participants included markers and paper, modelling clay and collage materials.
There were no directions given and every participant could use any of the materials they chose to create any work of art they desired. An art therapist was present during the activity to help if the participant requested any. Of those who took part in the study, just under half reported that they had limited experience in making art.
Researchers found that 75 per cent of the participants’ cortisol levels lowered during their 45 minutes of making art. While there was some variation in how much cortisol levels lowered, there was no correlation between past art experiences and lower levels, researchers said. Written testimonies of their experiences afterwards explained how the participants felt about creating art.
It was very relaxing, one wrote. After about five minutes, I felt less anxious. I was able to obsess less about things that I had not done or need (ed) to get done. Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective. Roughly 25 per cent of the participants actually registered higher levels of cortisol – though that was not necessarily a bad thing, researchers said.
Some amount of cortisol is essential for functioning. For example, our cortisol levels vary throughout the day – levels are highest in the morning because that gives us an energy boost to us going at the start of the day, said Kairnal.
It could have been that the art-making resulted in a state of arousal and/or engagement in the study’s participants, she said.