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Combating Chronic Stress through the Arts

What is Chronic Stress and how does it affect your brain?


When cortisol is continuously released in our brains it increases the number of connections in our Amygdala, the part of our brain that induces fear. More connections means our brain connects to and recalls information from this part faster and faster. Cortisol also damages the connection in our Hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and stress control.


So what can we do to change this?


Research shows that engaging in mindful behavior, whether during activities we already like to do or with new activities, we can counteract these effects. When we intentionally engage our brains in being present we are challenging those fear connections in the amygdala and causing them to weaken while strengthening our connections in the hippocampus- even forming new ones if we are learning something new.


When we engage in the creative process through any art form- dance, music, theater, visual art- we engage in a state of “flow”. “‘Flow’ occurs when a person engages in a specific goal-oriented activity that requires just enough attention to bring about a state of heightened focus….people who engaged in daily and multiple flow activities would be less anxious than those who did not”( Losinski, 2016). This is the same thing that happens when we exercise, meditate, or engage in other mindfulness practices like guided breathing.


The more we engage ourselves in this state of flow, the more we actively rewire the way our brain responds to stress, strengthening our hippocampus and decreasing the role of the amygdala in our decision making.


So, build in time in your week to engage in the arts! Sit in your room and listen to music, pick up an instrument and mess around, dance around your home, and doodle your way through all your meetings- you’re retraining your brain to respond to stress differently every time!




Ideas for engaging with your kids in a state of flow and combating anxiety;


  • Go for a walk and see if you can find the rainbow in natural objects, homes, or man made objects- if this works for your kids, you can even make this a competition to see who can find all the colors first!

  • Play freeze dance! Put on your favorite songs and dance around, pause the song indicating everyone needs to freeze. Hit play to start the dancing again- no one needs to be out but we can all chuckle at a misstep.

  • Getting ready to go somewhere new? To combat anxiety about that experience, ask your kids to draw or perform what they think that experience will be like- have a conversation about what they can expect to see, do, and feel and what choices they have while there. This works for places that already have trauma associated with them, helping to break down the connections in the amygdala that already exist.

  • Have a consistent creativity time in your schedule- let kids play with a different art making media during that time or choose a prompt for them to respond to.

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