The arts do more than entertain us. They also improve our overall well-being. Science has shown that even daily habits like listening to music or doodling can help you lead a healthier life, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
It stops pain (without getting you high)
When you undergo physical or emotional pain, your brain releases opioids, natural painkillers, to raise your tolerance for pain and help you cope. Turns out that listening to music activates the same pain-reducing chemicals. Robin Dunbar, a psychology professor at the University of Oxford, says that actively participating with the music by singing or dancing makes this effect even stronger. Now, opioids are also found in addictive, pain-killing drugs, like morphine and heroin, but the opiate levels in your brain can never get you high—whether you want it to or not.
It relieves depression
If you suffer from depression, your emotions can seem scattered and overwhelming. But writing can help you organize your thoughts, so you can decide how you can do something about them. Michael Rank, PhD, the co-director of the International Traumatology Institute at the University of South Florida, admits that it can be difficult to deal with these bad feelings. However, writing about them can make internal battles seem more tangible and easy to change. It doesn’t matter if you choose poems, stories, or even journaling about your life; just start writing (or typing) away.
It fights infections
In a massive review of over 400 scientific papers, researchers at McGill University in Montreal found that listening to music can actually boost your immune system. They found that test subjects who listened to music had increased levels of Immunoglobulin A, an antibody found in the digestive tract and lungs that helps prevent infections. They also found high numbers of “natural killer cells,” a type of immune cell, which attack bacteria and infected or cancerous cells.
It helps you cope with trauma
After going through a traumatic experience, whether it’s a car accident or a sudden death in the family, your survival instincts kick in and set the brain on high alert. This can make cognitive functions, even as simple as understanding and answering a question, difficult. But through her art therapy studies, counselor Cathy Malchiodi has shown that drawing can calm the brain and create a sense of safety. So if you start feeling overwhelmed during a class or meeting, try doodling your worries away.
It improves your sleep schedule
Dancing is a fun way to get the benefits of exercise, like losing weight and lowering blood pressure, while creating art. But did you know it could also help you get a better night’s sleep? A study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity found that people who get at least 150 minutes (that’s two and a half hours) of exercise per week sleep significantly better and feel less groggy during the day. If you’re part of the 40 percent of Americans who have trouble falling asleep at night or staying awake during the day, put on those dancing shoes and get moving!