Use Creativity to Combat Negative Emotions

No matter what your circumstances, you can use creativity to improve your mood. Here is a reprint of a blog I wrote for the afterdeployment.org website:

The time during, between, and after deployments often include periods of negative feelings – such as loneliness, depression, or anxiety. These feelings are common, whether you are the one who deployed or the family member back home. One way to combat these feelings is to use that negative energy as a motivator to do something creative. Expressing your emotional distress through creative writing, journaling, painting or sketching, or making music can distract you from those destructive feelings and an even help you find meaning in a painful event or situation.  Ernest Hemingway, for example, used writing as a way to counter the pain and depression he felt after being injured on the Italian Front in World War I. Likewise, blues music became a way of expressing and dealing with melancholy and sadness to a generation of musicians.

Creative activities can reduce anxiety and stress, and they even have the power to aid in the healing process if you’ve experienced trauma or injury. That’s why art therapy, music therapy, and even drama therapy are often added to standard forms of treatment for depression and anxiety. [Note that if negative moods persist for extremely long periods or are severe, you should seek the help of a healthcare professional rather than trying to “self-medicate” with creative work.]

You don’t have to be a trained writer, musician, or artist to receive the benefits of creative activity. Personal expression of emotion is powerful, even from the untrained creator. There are a number of ways you can channel your negative feelings into creative work. Standard outlets include through music (singing/playing an instrument or composing a melody), writing (poetry, short stories, or journaling) art (drawing and sculpture), and drama. But there are other outlets as well. Florists can express moods through flower arrangements, and chefs use spices and herbs to suggest different moods; you can also creatively express yourself through photography, gardening, quilting, or woodworking. There are virtually endless ways you can creatively express anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or anger and transform that emotion into something original and useful.

Slap some paint (or markers or crayons) onto a blank surface, use pots and pans as a makeshift drum set, or set a timer and write  unstructured poem for five minutes – anything that comes to your mind (don’t worry about rhyming or spelling). These activities are far more therapeutic than using drugs, liquor, sex, or risky behavior to combat negative emotions. Or you can use your negative emotions as the subject matter for a painting, a song, or a short story.  Many of the world’s most famous creative people have used their negative moods for subject matter (including poet Emily Dickinson, the composer Tchaikovsky, and playwright Eugene O’Neill – and many of today’s country and rock artists).

You don’t have to be talented, and you don’t have to share what you produce with anyone else. Don’t judge your creative work – just get involved in it! The point is to turn a potentially destructive emotion into a constructive activity. If you have a favorite form of creativity that has helped you combat negative feelings, please leave a comment.

Creative activity can make you feel better.

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  • Duncan Long

    On the mark! Of course it opens that can of worms as to whether some in the various arts camps might be less creative if they weren’t using it to “self medicate” with various difficulties in their lives.

  • Meena selvam

    I had a deep personal problem that had been bothering me since adolescence. I wrote all my emotions related to that personal problem through poetry in my native language. After that, my attitude towards that experience in adolescent has dramatically changed, and it does not affect me in a bad way since then.

    I had negative emotions about my productivity at work. After blogging through creative writing, I have overcome most of my negative emotions towards my productivity at work

  • Nancy

    I was at a quilt exhibit and saw a couple of unusually somber quilts. I read the description. A woman had become depressed and dyed all the quilts she had made black. The colors still showed through, but darkened. I don’t know if that act helped her mood, but it certainly left us with a striking visual representation of depression.