Posted on: May 14, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0


Graphic by James Landgraf

By Abby Hobbs, JRN-111 Student

Picture this: You settle down into your chair, accompanied by only a pen and paper. As you begin to journal about your stress-ridden thoughts, a sense of relief washes over you. The words flow from your mind and onto the page, and the tactical sensation of the paper beneath your fingertips grounds you. 

With each word you write, you hear the sound of your feelings more clearly, developing a clearer perspective on your once-overwhelming emotions.

While we’ve entered a post-pandemic lifestyle, stress and anxiety still linger for many. As The Glacier has reported, “More than 40 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a treatable anxiety disorder. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Canada.”

According to a recent report by the Healthy Minds Study, collecting data from 373 campuses worldwide, “more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem.”

It’s essential to acknowledge this mental health crisis, but what outlets beyond counseling and therapy are available?

The solution has been right in front of us all along: Creative arts also serve as a strong tool for mental wellness, acting as an aid to fight off negative emotions. As students face mounting anxiety, the healing power of art has become more important than ever. 

“Art appears to improve brain function by raising serotonin levels, which are brain chemicals that help us feel more focused and emotionally stable,” Moraine psychology professor Nickolas Shizas said. “Low levels of serotonin are associated with depressive episodes, so we might be able to make the claim that engaging in art can prevent depression, or help manage depression.”

Music

Take Hayley Stevanus, 20, as an example. While she is currently a freshman in the midst of determining her career path, music consumes her life in the best way possible. 

Whether it be the piano, guitar, violin or drums, playing instruments is not only a hobby of hers–it’s a passion, a passion that has changed the way she copes with stress.

“I don’t know where I’d be without music,” she said, smiling as she recalled the years when she first learned to play instruments. “Since I was 10 years old, I’d sit down and play, and it helps. The act of creating something beautiful makes me channel negative energy in a positive direction, which in my case is playing music.”

For Stevanus and many others, music’s impact goes beyond just the act of playing an instrument. Even simply listening to music can help individuals build resilience. It serves as a coping mechanism that can help them manage adversity standing in their way, even academic struggles.

“When I’m not playing, I’m relying on my favorite artists for that same effect,” Stevanus explained. “When I’m studying, especially if it’s a stressful day, I always have my earbuds nearby. It helps me focus in a way that nothing else ever has.”

Donald Allen, 24, works in the Student Success Center as a program assistant. He has felt the mental benefits of music as well, recalling a time when he relied on music’s words whilst transitioning out of college into bigger things.

“Lyrics are so uplifting,” he says. “The thing with music is, it can alter your emotions. It helps me overcome and overpower that stress, reminding me that I can do this.”

Painting

A 2017 study conducted by the Arts and Minds organization’s Arts on Prescription project allowed participants to explore a range of painting techniques. 

Studies revealed a “71% decrease in feelings of anxiety and a 73% fall in depression. 76% of participants said their wellbeing increased and 69% felt more socially included.”

Jenny Suarez, 19, took notice of the indisputable effect it had on her friend’s once-severe anxiety. After she simply decided to take an art class for fun, it became her healthy coping mechanism.

Suarez’s friend is not only majoring in art, she’s now planning to make a career out of it.

“I used to be skeptical about the idea that art could have mental benefits, but then I saw how my friend reacted to that class,” Suarez said.

While seeing her friend’s anxiety diminish over time, Suarez’s skepticism has dissipated: “When she’s working on a project, it’s like nothing matters and she’s anxiety-free. It’s like her mini-escape from reality.”

Writing

For many, the act of writing can be therapeutic. It’s a way to release pent-up emotions and express oneself freely. This release can be especially helpful for individuals who struggle to express their emotions out loud.

Writing’s therapeutic ability makes it a crucial tool for students to thrive both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Moraine communications professor Amani Wazwaz describes this form of art, specifically freewriting and journaling, as something sacred. To her it’s something that can help cultivate and inspire one’s depth of thinking, and spark new ideas. 

“These practices have lifted the demands for grammatical correctness and logical organization, opening the space for students to concentrate on exploring their ideas,” she explains. “If they’re struggling with overwhelming emotions, journaling also allows them to begin making sense of their fears.”

She has also witnessed the art’s mental effects on many of her students. One student’s reaction left an everlasting impact on her.

“For some reason, a student had not picked up her journal when the semester ended,” Wazwaz recalls. “When she eventually did stop by, she informed me she had been facing challenges for several months after our class had ended.

“She wanted herself back, and that self was in her journal.”

On top of that, this inspiration has even found its way into Wazwaz’s life through her own journals.
“Where there was once a chaos of muddled emotions, the pages allowed me to sort through feelings, trying to make peace where a few minutes ago there was only despondency,” Wazwaz said.

By doing something so simple, she was able to tap into her inner creativity, stabilize her emotions, and improve her quality of life.

“Throughout writing, new ideas are born,” Wazwaz said. “With the new writing that is created, a new self is birthed into the world.”