4 Ways in Which Drawing Can Improve Your Mood According to Science

Sep 24, 2022

If you’ve ever done some doodling, you probably know the effect that it can have on your mood. It clears your head and helps you put your emotions in order, making you more relaxed and calmer.

So, what exactly goes on in our brains when we draw? What makes it feel so good? As it turns out, science has the answers, and we’ll take a closer look at them in this article.

[Source: Unsplash]

How Drawing Helps Your Brain Relax

Whether painting, sculpting, or visiting an art museum, experiencing art provides many benefits to our well-being, including reduced stress and improved critical thinking. Sketching and drawing, particularly, have been associated with improved memory and creativity, as well as stress relief.

A healthy life requires creativity, as well as the ability to connect with yourself and others. You can express yourself in any way you like — knitting, decorating, writing poetry, collaging, painting, you name it, but drawing is perhaps the most beginner-friendly and accessible method.

Creative activities engage your mind, which allows you to make connections between unrelated things and envision new ways of communicating. Everyone should doodle and sketch regularly, regardless of their skill level. Here are a few scientific reasons why.

  1. Stress Reduction

Even though art therapy is a relatively new field of study, there is evidence that drawing can relieve stress and anxiety. An American Art Therapy Association study published in 2016 measured the levels of cortisol, commonly referred to as “the stress hormone,” in 39 healthy adults.

Researchers found that 45 minutes of art creation in a studio setting with an art therapist significantly reduced cortisol levels. Additionally, no differences in health outcomes were found between people who identify as experienced artists and those who do not.

Therefore, no matter your level, you can enjoy the benefits of drawing. That said, you’ll likely enjoy the experience more if you know what you’re doing, at least to some extent. Thankfully, there are various tutorials available out there, such as this guide to drawing a person by BIOWARS.

  1. Improved Focus

Ultimately, sketch drawing should trigger what the scientific community calls “flow” — that wonderful state of inspiration.  When you’re in the “flow” state, you tend to lose all awareness of the world around you and the passage of time, focusing entirely on what’s in front of you.

There is no sense of time or space because you are so present in the moment. 

From a scientific perspective, observing how your brain behaves when in a flow state is very interesting. Frontiers in Psychology published a study in 2018 which found that “flow” induced more significant theta wave activity in the frontal lobe, with moderate alpha wave activity in the central and frontal areas of the brain.

In plain English, entering a flow state entices your brain to activate several neural networks, including those that regulate relaxed reflection, focus, and pleasure.

  1. Reward Center Activation

Artmaking can be a nerve-wracking experience for many people. What will you draw? Which method should you use? What if it turns out terrible?

Research shows that despite these fears, engaging in any sense of visual expression activates the brain’s reward pathway.  As a result, you feel good, and the experience is perceived as enjoyable no matter what.

A study published in The Arts in Psychotherapy in 2017 discovered this. The researchers inspected blood flow to 26 participants’ medial prefrontal cortex, the brain’s reward center, as they colored in mandalas, doodled, and drew freely on a blank paper. They found that while participants were making art, this part of the brain received more blood flow.

This suggests that people who suffer from health conditions that activate the brain’s reward pathways, such as addictive behaviors, mood disorders, or eating disorders, may benefit from drawing and other forms of artmaking.

  1. Imagination and Problem-Solving

Our ability to flex our imagination with art may be one of the reasons we have made drawings since we were cavemen. There is a possibility that it serves an evolutionary purpose. By making art, we learn how to deal with potential future problems.

Journal of the American Art Therapy Association published a paper by Girija Kaimal on this topic. She bases her theory on an idea that has been developing in the past few years — that our brains are predictive machines.

Using information collected through our senses, the brain predicts what we might do next — and what we should do to thrive and survive. We use our brains every minute, consciously and unconsciously, to prepare ourselves for what might happen next.

Drawing involves a series of decisions — how to translate a product of your imagination onto paper, what colors to include, which drawing utensil to use, etc. It’s ultimately about interpreting the image – understanding its meaning.

Imagination is a means of survival. It prepares us for various possibilities and helps us survive them.

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