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How Arts and Culture Can Help COVID-19 Anxiety

Older adult woman painting flowers in a vase.

Alistair Berg / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • An ongoing study from the U.K. suggests that partaking in creative activities—from singing or drawing to practicing an instrument—can actually elevate your mood during the pandemic.
  • Just 30 minutes of a creative activity a day can make a difference.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our usual forms of relaxing and recharging, and in turn, has taken a toll on mental health around the world. In normal circumstances, you’d be able to decompress with a friend, perhaps by seeing a concert or movie. But with lockdowns, social distancing, and even shuttering businesses, typical forms of leisure aren't realistic options.

An ongoing study from the U.K. suggests that partaking in creative activities—from singing to drawing to practicing an instrument—can actually elevate your mood during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Social Study is led by Daisy Fancourt, PhD, an associate professor of behavioral science and health at the University College of London. The project, ongoing since March, tracks weekly behaviors across more than 72,000 adults ages 18 and older. The results show people who participated in the arts-related activities for at least 30 minutes a day reported lower rates of anxiety and depression.

“The pandemic is wreaking havoc on all parts of our lives," Sarah Hunter Murray, PhD, a registered relationship and family therapist who was not involved with the study, tells Verywell. "It has increased our stress, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future, it has led to financial changes and strains, and it has left us socially isolated with little to no access to the activities that used to fulfill our mental and physical health.” 

It's important to seek out new hobbies that can help boost your mood. Next time you're reaching for the TV remote or your phone, consider taking on a creative project instead—even if it's as simple as reading a book or watching a painting class online. It might help soothe some of those feelings of anxiousness and isolation associated with the pandemic.

Editor's Tips

  1. Try seasonal crafts like painting pumpkins or decorating holiday ornaments
  2. Follow along to Bob Ross painting tutorials on YouTube
  3. Pick up a small at-home pottery kit at your local pottery spot
  4. Work with clay materials to make household objects like coasters or jewelry
  5. Create collages or mood boards from old magazines and advertisements

The Link Between Mental Health and Art

The study notes that more than half of the participants said they missed activities like going to museums, concerts, and visiting bookstores. Some participants continued their normal arts-related habits, though, and 22% of respondents increased their arts consumption or production since the start of the pandemic.

Fancourt believes arts activities are so helpful that they should be available to patients by prescription. Research shows that partaking in creative activities can help relieve stress and help slow cognitive decline. This relationship between arts and mental health has long since been explored through art therapy, where creative activities serve as interventions for mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

What This Means For You

It’s normal to feel anxious and depressed during times of uncertainty. To help alleviate stress, try engaging in 30 minutes of art activities a day.

Missing Connection

While most people are missing heading out to concerts or performances, artists also miss the experience of sharing their art with others. The inability to perform has negatively impacted the mental health of many.

“I feel like some part of me has been ripped away," Katherine White, a professional clarinetist at the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, tells Verywell. "Everyone else goes to concerts for entertainment and because they're fun and something you can do with family and friends. I do it because it is my calling and is as much a part of me as breathing. I think we need the togetherness and happiness that live music and other arts give us.”

The musician, who has focused on her pet-sitting business during the pandemic, strongly believes in the power of arts, but she doesn't think online solutions like virtual concerts will ever replace in-person gatherings. “Nothing compares to being in the same space and having the same experience with a group of people on stage and in the audience," she says. "There is an electricity that happens there and nowhere else."

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  1. APPG on arts health & wellbeing - webinar live stream. Updated July 16, 2020.