As bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert has pointed out, there's no such thing as an uncreative person -- if you're alive, you're creative. Yet as we grow up into serious adults, many of us stop engaging in the creative pursuits we enjoyed when we were younger. Why is that?

For plenty of people, the answer is shame. With mature eyes we realize that we're simply not very good at drawing, or painting, or playing the guitar, and it seems like the sensible thing to do is to just give these hobbies up.

But if that sounds like you, you really need to check out recent research out of Drexel University (hat tip to lifehacker for the pointer) that proves the inability to draw a convincing smiley face is no reason to stop drawing or painting. Even terrible art has strong stress-busting effects.

You don't have to be Van Gogh.

The straightforward study simply invited 39 adults to make art for 45 minutes in any way they pleased, using simple materials like markers, modeling clay and collage supplies. To gauge the effects of this creative exercise on the participants' stress levels, the research team tested their levels of the hormone cortisol, a bodily marker of stress, both before and after the art-making session.

"The researchers found that 75 percent of the participants' cortisol levels lowered during their 45 minutes of making art. And while there was some variation in how much cortisol levels lowered, there was no correlation between past art experiences and lower levels," reports the study release.

That means even bad artists are likely to see the stress-busting benefits of playing around with paint and clay. And the subjective feelings of the study participants seemed to reflect this truth. "It was very relaxing. After about five minutes, I felt less anxious," one wrote of the experience.

"Everyone is creative," commented Girija Kaimal, one of the researchers involved in the study, offering scientific backing to Gilbert's claims. But while Kaimal wasn't shocked that everyone enjoyed making art, she was surprised that bad artists got the same benefits as good ones. She expected those with a bit of training and skill to get more out of the session, but that wasn't what the data revealed.

The bottom line is incredibly simple -- giving yourself the opportunity to be creative isn't about being good at art. It's about exercising a fundamental human need to putter and create, and it can benefit anyone, no matter how shaky their singing voice or wonky their stick figures.

So don't think you have to be Van Gogh to get the benefits of that evening painting class or Pavarotti to sign up for your local community choir. Join and enjoy -- even if you're awful! You'll see your stress levels sink anyway.

Is shame stopping you from participating in artistic pursuits?

Published on: Jul 26, 2016