Creative play can ease stress and reduce cortisol

creative play reduces stress and cortisol

There was a study done a few years ago that showed that 45 minutes of art-making and creative play significantly reduced cortisol levels in 75% of the study participants. Not only that, but they also said, “they found the art-making session to be relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, and experienced a feeling a sense of flow/losing themselves in the work.”  Why should this matter to you? Because high levels of cortisol have been linked to depression, anxiety and an inability to lose weight among other health risks.

I am not a health professional but according to experts at Mayo Clinic chronic stress puts your health at risk. I have experienced this firsthand. Having my hormones tested at different stages of life has shown a direct correlation between my physical health, weight gain and the amount of stress in my life. I don’t have it all figured out yet, still working on getting all the pieces playing nicely together for myself. I do know that the more I manage my stress effectively, the better I feel, the happier I am and the more I enjoy my life and family.

Creative play lifts my spirits

What I do know is that for me creative play is one of the best ways to reduce my feelings of stress, worry and burnout. I find that engaging in art-making activities of all kinds can lift my spirits, shift my mood and get me back on track for the day.

Now you might be reading this saying, “But I’m not creative, I don’t know how to draw, paint, dance, sing, fill in the blank.” The truth is that we are all creative. Think back to some of the things you loved to do as a child and were fearless about trying or engaging in until somewhere along the way someone said to you, “You can’t draw, paint, dance, sing, fill in the blank.” As Brené Brown says, we all have these creativity scars in our past.

I know I did. I got bad grades in my art classes and got Cs on poems I wrote in English class. One time as a young girl I got asked to sit down and be quiet during a Christmas sing-along with my family. Ouch.

Zentangle® was a turning point in my creative journey

But I am a creative spirit and I love to make stuff. For years I channeled that energy into holiday crafts or gifts for friends, cooking and entertaining and I am the Queen of gourmet picnics. Then I discovered Zentangle®, a meditative form of drawing meditative patterns and I found my Inner Artist again. That journey started close to 10 years ago and since then I continued to play and grow as an artist. I even started selling my own art last year, something I never would have dreamed was possible.

Zentangle reduces stress

While it’s cool to call myself artist and to sell my paintings, the bigger benefits of art-making flow from times when I simply engage in creative play, with no intention for outcomes, just joy in the journey. When I allow myself to relax and experiment, I feel my body lightening up and my spirits rise. Below I share three of my favorite creative activities for reducing stress and burnout.

Here are 3 of my favorite creative stress-busting activities:

Zentangle® – this is a meditative form of drawing that anyone can learn. There are many YouTube videos like this beginner video I created a few years ago so you can easily give it a try at home. I recommend finding a teacher near you and taking a class in person. Practicing tangling just 10 to 15 minutes a day has tremendous health benefits and is an a form of mindful meditation when practiced in quiet or to music.

creativity reduces stressPainting Meditation – using watercolors or acrylic paints on paper and simply play with color. No need to create a representational image, play with texture, patterns and colors. Choose colors intuitively, you don’t need to know anything about color theory. You will usually pick colors that have a vibrational energy that will soothe or nourish you. You can do this to music, too, adding an element of sensual experience. Or paint while listening to a guided visualization. There are some great free ones on the Hay House podcast.

Dance! – Turn on your favorite tunes in the privacy of your home and let your body move. This is good for you on so many levels, the physical, the emotional and the spiritual. This has been a huge part of my creative journey to wellness in the past year. I found a local dance class I love and I also discovered the Body Groove program online which is a lovely, playful, freeform style of dance founded by Misty Tripoli that I am having so much fun with.

None of these are affiliate links just resources I love and use regularly. I am a Certified Zentangle® Teacher and I love teaching classes online or in person in the Santa Barbara, California area. I also offer corporate workshops and team building experiences using Zentangle® or other creative processes that help unblock creativity and innovation. I can be reached at

Share in the comments below what your favorite form of creative play is. There are so many to choose from!

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