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Art: Lower stress and feed the right brain in a left-brain world

A new study shows that making art — sculpting, drawing, or collage-making — lowers stress hormones, even if you aren’t an artist. This is important for brain health as stress ravages the brain. We also know in functional neurology that our information-overload society hammers away at the left brain non-stop. Art is great way to exercise the right brain, thus improving overall brain function.

The study collected samples of stress hormones before and after the subjects spent 45 minutes drawing, sculpting, or making collages. Three quarters of the subjects showed lower levels of stress hormones after the art-making period. The results were similar regardless of whether the person had prior experience creating art regularly.

Subjects also reported feeling calmer, less anxious, and less obsessive.

What’s interesting is about a quarter of the subjects registered higher cortisol levels after the artistic experience. Researchers say this is not necessarily a bad thing as it may indicate increased excitement or engagement. The older subjects in the experiment exhibited the lower cortisol responses.

The study is important because stress is one of the most significant contributors to accelerated brain degeneration in our modern society. It is especially damaging to the hippocampus, and area of the brain that regulates stress and serves as the seat of learning and memory.

Chronically high levels of cortisol from chronic stress very quickly erode and degenerate the hippocampus. This not only makes the brain more conducive to experiencing stress, it also more quickly erodes learning and memory.

Taking adrenal adaptogens can help buffer the brain from the damages of high cortisol. But it’s also important to engage in more right-brained stress-relieving activities such as creating art.

Using art to support the right brain

The study shows another value in taking time to create art, even if you’re not an artist — exercising the right brain. For most of us, life is dominated by a left-brain existence as we navigate long hours at work, digital information overload, and the logistics of survival in modern America. Left brain characteristics include being analytical, logical, numerical, fact-oriented, very structured, and thinking with words.

However, optimal brain function requires that both sides of the brain work equally. For many of us, the right brain is sorely neglected. Consider these right-brain traits that may be going overlooked in your life:

  • Visionary
  • Big-picture thinker
  • Intuitive
  • Creative
  • Free-thinking
  • Think in terms of visuals more than words

In functional neurology we realize brain rehabilitation is more complex than simply left vs. right brain dominance. But if you find right-brain traits missing from your life, taking some time to engage them can not only lower stress, but also improve cognition, learning, and memory.

Ask my office how we can use functional neurology to help improve your brain performance, recover from brain injuries, or manage brain-based disorders.

Meet the Author

Dr. Boyle D.A.C.M., LAc., DiplOM.

Dr. Boyle D.A.C.M., LAc., DiplOM. is the founder of the Holistic Wellness Center of the Carolinas where he is the Director of Functional Medicine. He holds a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine and is acupuncture physician and primary care physician in the state of Florida. His post-graduate focus has been in the fields of functional neurology, functional immunology, and functional endocrinology.

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