/ April 5, 2021

Five creative activities to reduce loneliness and promote mental health

Even before the current COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 40% of adults in the U.S. reported feeling lonely some or all of the time. Loneliness and social isolation can have a range of negative effects, including worsening symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses (source). Creative activities can help by increasing meaningful social connection with others, reducing stress, and helping people to understand and process their emotions (source).

1. Reading can improve mental health and wellbeing

Both fiction and nonfiction writing about mental illness can validate readers’ experiences with mental health challenges, reduce stigma, and develop resiliency (source). Some studies have shown that fiction is particularly beneficial for increasing readers’ empathy and strengthening social skills – which can improve relationships, important sources of emotional support and wellbeing (source).

• Take Action: Check out Spaces to Thrive’s reading list for recommended books and watch “Reflections on Mental Health and Writing,” a ThriveNYC Virtual Conversation with authors who have written about mental health and mental illness.

2. Music can help you relax and improve your mood

• A 2013 study found that listening to music can actually reduce an individual’s stress response when experiencing a distressing situation or a crisis (source).

• Take Action: Register for a virtual Concert in Motion or download a relaxing playlist.

3. Visual storytelling about mental health and mental illness – whether in film or the visual arts – can help you feel less alone

• People experiencing or recovering from a mental health challenge can find solace and inspiration in storytelling (source). Stories about mental health recovery are especially important for people who are socially isolated or lack a consistent social support network (source).

• Take Action: Watch a film from the Unlonely Film Festival. For each film, this site includes discussion questions and activities to help you explore the themes more deeply. 

4. Writing and journaling can foster positive emotions like gratitude and build resilience

• Journaling about things you are grateful for has been linked to improved mental wellbeing (source). In a study following the September 11th attacks in New York City, researchers found that accessing positive emotions, like gratitude, after a crisis protected people from developing symptoms of depression (source).

• Take Action: If you don’t have your own journaling routine, you can easily start with guidance from the Foundation for Art and Healing.

5. Making art can reduce anxiety and feelings of loneliness 

• In one study, painting played a significant role in lessening loneliness among adolescents (source). In another, making art improved wellbeing for older adults (source).

• Take Action: Start a virtual creativity challenge with your community to stay connected, even while physically distant.

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