People struggling with mental health are often told to busy themselves. Whilst the convenient options are to binge a series or two on Netflix, physical ventures seem to expend long-term benefits. But what exact outlets have been proven to help?
Films and books show how art is a powerful outlet for those struggling. It warrants the expression of people’s most abstract and abstruse thoughts. Does the notorious portrayal of artists in the media actually have any authenticity behind it?
One insightful article illustrated the remarkable reasons people struggling with mental health gave for why they pursued art. They explained that art gave them a sense of meaning and purpose, not only in their work, but also in their everyday lives.
art was their way of dealing with distress – it gave them something to focus on outside of their constant negative thought patterns
Others found that exploring their own artwork inspired them and made them feel more hopeful. Some of the participants articulated how art was their way of dealing with distress – it gave them something to focus on outside of their constant negative thought patterns.
Many claimed that art awarded them with full autonomy – they had the freedom to create whatever, however. People were able to depict painful events in a positive way. Others established that art enabled them to turn their emotional pain into something physical and tangible, making it easier to comprehend and deal with.
Regardless of your drawing abilities, art is an activity which knows no limits. Whether you’re colouring in Van Gogh’s Starry Night using a paint-by-numbers, or actually recreating it, art has been proven to improve mental health.
A lot of research has been conducted regarding the outcomes of journaling on people suffering with poor mental health. A common conclusion that these studies have come to is that journaling helps mental health. The act of documenting experiences, thoughts and feelings shows long-term improvements concerning mood, symptoms of depression and stress levels.
One study asked a group with similar states of mind, to either write about a traumatic event; or to write about a superficial topic. They found those who wrote about the emotional event reported better health four months later and had less frequent trips to the health centre compared to their counterparts.
being able to translate an experience into language by writing it down makes it more graspable and thus easier to deal with
James Pennebaker, a researcher at the University of Texas, describes how journaling can provide such benefits. He explains that being able to translate an experience into language by writing it down makes it more graspable and thus easier to deal with.
Who would have thought that a pen and paper could turn out to be the supportive superhero-sidekick duo we didn’t know that we needed?
Exercise is very commonly advised for people struggling with mental health issues. Activities from walking to boxing have been shown to alleviate symptoms of mental health as well as an outlet for boosting mood, motivation and morale.
But how exactly does exercise make us feel good, when all we really associate with it is sweat and soreness?
When we get active our bodies release a bunch of feel-good hormones. Dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are just a few that are stimulated by physical activity and each play a part in improving our moods. Cortisol, which deals with stress, is another hormone released during and after exercise.
those who also recorded more minutes of walking were more likely to have a better higher quality of life
So, what kind of exercises should you be doing? It turns out, it doesn’t really matter. All types of exercise exert a positive effect onto our mental health. Certain activities that research has focused on are:
Walking – Researchers found that women who reported experiencing symptoms of depression and those who also recorded more minutes of walking were more likely to have a better higher quality of life compared to women who did little to no walking.
Other researchers split participants with a diagnosis of moderate depression into two groups: exercise (walking/jogging on the treadmill) group or medication group. They followed participants after ten months and found those in the exercise group had significantly lower rates of depression compared to the group taking medication alone.
Yoga – Yoga focuses on the here and now. It gives people a break from negative thoughts and instead encourages concentration on breathing. Yoga has been shown to increase levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric-acid which potentially reduces anxiety levels.
Another piece of research suggests that treating people who suffer from PTSD with trauma-informed yoga classes shows a significant decline in PTSD-related symptoms.
Resistance training also improves self-esteem which sequentially improves mental health
Resistance training/weight-lifting – Research shows that resistance training can help people who suffer from anxiety. This type of training improves cognitive functions, which refers to the ability of the brain to process feelings, sensory experiences and thoughts. Resistance training also improves self-esteem which sequentially improves mental health.
HIIT workouts – These types of workouts increase levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. These hormones act as stress mediators.
Boxing – Boxing is one of the only activities where it is acceptable to release your anger and frustration somewhat violently. Hitting something provides an outlet for venting. Boxing stimulates the release of endorphins which are famous for making us feel good.
Pilates – Similarly to yoga, pilates focuses on breathing and relaxation. Pilates switches on the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for relaxation, calmness and sleep.
So, the next time you’re having a down day, blast on the cheesiest music you can find and dance like nobody’s watching.
Spandler, H, Secker, J, Kent, L, Hacking, S, and Shenton, J. “Catching Life: The Contribution of Arts Initiatives to Recovery Approaches in Mental Health.” Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
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