Arts & Mental Health
Art, in all its forms, is good for our mental health. I know this from my experience with quarantine. When my husband’s birthday rolled around, I felt at ease as I stitched together 15-20 second videos from people who loved him. This was only the beginning of an array of new enjoyable artistic endeavors. By now, I have taken on learning to juggle, write, and make jewelry. If I look even further back in my life, I know that even the karaoke at Filipinx family-friends’ parties brought about the most interaction between loved ones and tended to give me a sense of belonging, even if I had initially felt out of place.
Recently during a writing class I took, I wondered why these kinds of activities unrelated to work—whether expressive, connective, or moving—can be so rewarding to our emotional well-being.
Wanting to find out, I picked up Dr. Srini Pillay’s book Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try - Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind. I learned about the DMN (Default Mode Network), the part of our brain responsible for our unfocused, relaxed time and activities. The CEN (Central Executive Network) is responsible for our focus to get things done. The CEN relies on the DMN for us to focus, and not over-focus and throw our brains into overdrive. This made sense to me because while I’m juggling, I sort of need to “fuzz” out everything in my direct vision and moreso keep my periphery in focus.
It felt strikingly familiar to me as a clinician, because I’d recently learned more about flow through a colleague of mine. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Father of Flow & Optimal Experience research, found that amidst the different criteria for flow, the more an activity requires concentration on something, the more likely we are to achieve flow state. With flow states, we can experience deep concentration, pursue meaningful work, and find it to be an overall happier place to work. While not specific to art itself, art certainly is a fine example of such an activity.
Both the creating and viewing of art enables us to transport ourselves to an alternate reality, distract from self-consciousness, and keep us present. Having access to these states of mind when things are difficult can make things more bearable.
Choirs, for instance, can help in combating loneliness. Not only can singing regulate our emotions by calming our nervous system down and fostering connection between choir participants, there’s an added sense of safety created as well. “Unfocus + Focus” and Flow can help our brains re-organize and regulate, which helps to both prevent and bring us back from being hijacked by our amygdalas.
This makes me think differently about karaoke at Filipinx-family parties. Have you ever noticed the kind of joyful yet organized turn-taking during Filipinx gatherings, as folks sort who takes the karaoke mic next? We were emotionally regulating and didn’t even realize it.
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Chopsticks Alley Pinoy Contributor
Cynthia Siadat is a proud second-generation Fil-Am Licensed Clinical Social Worker (CA #76525; NY 083721-1). She acknowledges and is grateful that she is inhabiting, living and working on Tongva land. Committed to normalizing and destigmatizing mental health conversation, Cynthia received her graduate training at Columbia University School of Social Work and has been in the mental health field for over 15 years. She works with individuals and shares tools and resources typically reserved for the therapy room through her speaking, writing, and organization consultation around mental health.