How Participating in Art Increases Serotonin


Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body. It enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.

Studies show that art can make you happier, whether you’re creating you own art, or enjoying someone else’s.

If you’re like most people, you probably drew in coloring books, painted, or worked on another type of art project in elementary school. But, unless you’re a professional artist, you probably don’t spend nearly as much time on creative pursuits today. However, recently, artistic expression seems to be growing in popularity among adults: coloring books for adults have been selling out of bookstores, with claims that making art can help us to become more mindful and resilient during times of stress.

It helps lower stress levels. It can help people to cope with chronic illnesses. It can improve well-being and lower depression. In one study, women who had been diagnosed with cancer completed an 8-week mindfulness-based art therapy intervention, which included mindfulness training as well as making art projects. Compared to those who did not participate in the intervention, participants had better mental health, lower levels of anxiety and fewer symptoms of depression.

Why is art so beneficial? Making art appears to have a variety of benefits, but why would this be the case?

It allows us to express and process emotions. According to research on art in chronic illnesses, making art can help people with illnesses to express themselves and their feelings about their illness and clarify their “life story”. Art can also help us to process the emotions we are feeling, increase our self-awareness, and change the ways we think about ourselves and the world around us.
It feels good to make art. One additional reason why art is beneficial is perhaps the simplest—it’s just that art is intrinsically rewarding for us. In fact, one study found that viewing art activates brain regions related to reward.

What types of art are most likely to improve our well-being?

Psychologists have suggested that activities are most likely to improve our well-being when we experience “person-activity fit”:  in other words, when the activity is well-matched to our personality. Although this theory wasn’t developed with art in mind, it’s easy to see how it could be related to which art activities are most beneficial. For example, if you are a social person, you may benefit more from art activities done in a group. If you crave novelty, you may want to work on a variety of projects; whereas if you crave consistency, you may want to work on 1-2 familiar projects. It’s also important not to worry about your art being perfect: psychologists have found that perfectionism can make us feel anxious. In other words, if you’re feeling stressed rather than mindful, remember that your art doesn’t need to be perfect.

It’s important to recognize that, if you think you may have anxiety or depression, art shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for more traditional treatments. However, it can complement therapy or even be incorporated into therapy sessions.

In summary, creating art appears to have a variety of effects on well-being: it can reduce stress and depression, help people coping with chronic illnesses, allow us to better understand our emotions, and help us to truly be present in the moment. In other words, taking time to revisit one of the activities you participated in as a kid isn’t just nostalgic—it may actually improve your health and well-being!