We’ve all done it. Maybe you decorated the borders of your spelling tests in 3rd grade or listened to calculus lectures in college while making pencil and paper masterpieces in your notebook. Or, maybe you are a more serious doodler with a sketchpad and graphite pencil. There’s a reason why humans are so drawn to drawing, and you don’t have to be Monet to find out why. Simple creativity benefits both the mind and the body, and it usually starts with a little doodle.
Doodling, or free drawing, has been proven to help the brain retain new information. One study compared doodlers’ and non-doodlers’ abilities to retain new information. The doodlers recalled 29% more information than the non-doodlers. Jackie Andrade, psychologist and author of this research, theorizes that doodling supports concentration because it prevents daydreaming. The hand is doing the daydreaming, so the mind can focus on absorbing. Next time you’re on a long phone call or in an important meeting, don’t hesitate to (discreetly) pick up your pencil and scratch out some sketches to help focus your mind.
Drawing has powerful stress-relieving qualities as well, which are beneficial to mental and physical health. Whether you’re doodling on scrap paper, drawing in a sketchpad, or even coloring in a coloring book, the repetitive motions have a meditative quality to them. This meditative state triggers the relaxation response in the brain, which alleviates stress, reduces blood pressure, slows the heart rate, and steadies rapid breathing. One study even found that creating art reduced cortisol in 75% of participants immediately after the creative activity, which only involved clay, markers, glue, paper, and scissors. See? Not Monet!
Making art, even a doodle on a piece of paper, has also been found to reduce anxiety. One study assigned college students either a puzzle, an art project, or a group art project, and took data on their anxiety levels. Students who created art had significantly reduced levels of anxiety. Adult coloring books, ones with interesting geometric designs and other beautiful images, have become popular in recent years specifically for stress and anxiety reduction. Coloring books allow creativity without planning or thought. If you’re overwhelmed by a blank sheet of paper, try a coloring book to tap into the stress relief of doodling!
Doodling could make you happier and live longer too! Drawing, even doodling, requires creativity, which has been linked with longevity and increased happiness. According to an article by Scientific American, creativity activates more neural networks in the brain, keeping them strong and active well into old age and decreasing mortality rates. Creativity helps reduce depression as well. One study found that mindfulness-based art therapy, drawing and creating art mindfully, resulted in decreased “symptoms of distress” and helped improve “quality of life behaviors” in women diagnosed with breast cancer.
You don’t have to be a master-trained artist to be creative and enjoy the benefits of creativity in your life. In her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.” Don’t get hung up on not being creative enough. We’re all creative enough to doodle. Pick up a notebook and a pencil and let yourself go! If free drawing intimidates you, get yourself a coloring book. The structure is there and you can be free to tap into that relaxation response with the reputative motions and use color to express your creativity. Doodle away!
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