Dust off a Skillset of the Past Or Try Your Hand at a Brand-new Creative Endeavor.
If you’re like a lot of people, now that the winter holidays are over and spring still seems a long way off, you might be tempted to burrow beneath the blankets and set the alarm clock for April. The winter doldrums can be hard enough to shake on their own. Combine them with the current need to stay home and practice social distancing, and our inner sloth can easily take over. Fortunately, there’s an easy, inexpensive, enjoyable and creative way to banish the “winter blues” — and you might even derive some long-term benefits!
We’re talking about inviting a little more creativity into your life. When you think about being creative, you might automatically think of an artistic hobby, such as painting, sculpting or writing, or perhaps a craft like crocheting or quilting. While those are fine examples, of course, there are a plethora of other options for channeling your creative energies: cooking and baking, redecorating your living space, playing a musical instrument, videography, silk flower arranging, building a birdhouse, designing just about anything … you get the picture. And speaking of pictures, photography is an excellent way to express creativity. With the newer technology incorporated into cell phones these days, even newbies can learn to take stunning photos.
Not only will you find more fun in your days, but studies also show that engaging in a creative pursuit can have positive effects on your brain and body.
Unwinding in the Flow
When we focus on doing something creative, it gives our mind a chance to relax. Eventually, we might find ourselves “in the zone,” or “being in the flow.” In that state, we’re so focused on what we’re doing that we tune out distractions, including the chatter in our mind that can cause stress, anxiety and worry. Taking part in a creative activity stimulates the parts of our brain associated with pleasure and reward.
A study conducted at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professionals found that when people engaged in creating some sort of art — even if it was only for 45 minutes — most of them had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Of note, it didn’t matter whether they had any artistic skills. It was the process, and not the end result, that made the difference.1
Other research suggests that simply viewing art can increase the brain’s level of dopamine, which is sometimes referred to as a “pleasure” hormone.2 That’s a great reason to take advantage of the virtual tours that many museums are offering during the pandemic. But to reap all of the benefits associated with the creative arts and creativity in general, it’s best to be a participant instead of an observer.
Here’s why without getting too technical: Creative pursuits can improve cognitive functioning by producing new neural pathways in the brain. The two hemispheres of the brain tend to work more in unison when we’re engaging in a creative activity.
And there’s another reason to think about adding a creative outlet into your routine — it’s fun! By giving ourselves the opportunity to be creative, we can rediscover a sense of playfulness and reconnect with our sense of humor. Bear that in mind if you decide to try something new, like origami. What you end up with doesn’t have to be perfect. If it doesn’t look like what you envisioned at the outset, have a laugh and give it another go!
Fostering the Creative Spirit at Heron’s Key
Heron’s Key is fortunate to have some very talented artists within our community. This year, we’re bringing back our highly popular art show to showcase their work.
This year, we’ve had to draw on some creativity ourselves and come up with a way to continue the tradition while observing the COVID-19 safety protocols. Together with several of our resident group leaders, we’ve organized a month-long art show for January that gives residents the opportunity to enjoy displays in various locations around the campus. The displays change every week, so the resident artists chose where and when they wanted to show their work. They also have the option to be available at the display to answer questions if they’d like. It’s a safe way to maintain the sense of connection that’s so vital to so many residents here in our community.
“It’s been challenging to find new ways to feel connected this year,” said Sarah Whitmarsh, director of resident services at Heron’s Key. “Hopefully, the art display will give people an idea of what everybody’s been up to.
“We realize how important it is for residents to have creative outlets, especially now, when activities are necessarily limited. The good thing is that people can be creative in their own homes, where they feel protected. We also are managing our creative arts studio and our woodshop in terms of COVID-19 precautions so that residents can still use those areas if they want.”
Pre-COVID, Heron’s Key was able to offer art classes in our creative arts studio. Some were led by outside presenters, whereas others were led by artists who make their home here in our community. We are exploring the possibility of offering similar classes via Zoom if the restrictions remain in place much longer. We hope to resume the in-studio classes in the future.
Celebrations Get Creative
In the meantime, Heron’s Key residents continue to show their indomitable spirit. For instance, for a brief time in November when we were permitted to gather in socially distanced groups of five, several residents got together and made ornaments for the Christmas trees in our community.
“It was a simple way for them to connect,” Sarah said. “They had a chance to come together and share their sense of community. That’s really such an important part of Heron’s Key.
“We take a resident-led approach to so much of what takes place here. When any of the interest groups or committees come up with an idea for an activity or event in their planning meetings, it’s our job within Resident Services to provide the framework to make that happen. We want to be really responsive to whatever means something to them. We couldn’t do this without the incredible involvement of some really amazing group leaders, and we want that active engagement. After all, this is their home.”
Interest Groups: A Key to Creating the Heron’s Key Community
Steve and Linda Henry were among the first people to move into Heron’s Key when it opened in mid-2017. Linda said it’s been a true gift to be able to help create the new community.
“For us, it’s been one of the most valuable aspects of living here at Heron’s Key,” she said.
Within six months or so, even before the residents’ council was formed, several resident-led interest groups were being established, including the photography group that Steve and Linda lead.
“There are many, many interest groups now,” Linda said. “If there’s something that a resident or group of residents wants to do, then we have the availability to do that. It’s a very resident-driven community. It’s been that way from the very beginning.”
The photography group has around 15 active members, Steve and Linda noted, although the email list for the group is considerably larger. Some of the members are fairly new to photography. While others, like the Henrys, have been interested in photography for decades. Steve said his parents gave him his first “really good camera” when he graduated from high school.
The Henrys both still use cameras, but most of the other members in the group use their cell phones.
Creative Examples of Photography
“Cell phone photography has stimulated the creative juices in so many people who probably had never even thought about taking photos, other than snapping pictures of their pets or their grandkids,” Linda said. “It has created an avenue for people to say, ‘Oh, wow. This is art. This is creativity.’ And they take fabulous pictures. They’re really good!”
Before the pandemic hit, the group would regularly go on field trips to photograph at certain locations. Then, they would come back and have a meeting to share their photography. Now, they still share their photography at Zoom meetings. The Henrys are hopeful that the group will be able to resume their outings later this year.
As Linda pointed out, there are lots of interest groups at Heron’s Key, representing a broad range of, well, interests. Other groups that fall within the creative category are the woodworking group; fiber arts groups, which include residents who enjoy quilting, knitting, sewing and similar handiwork; and visual arts groups, whose members express themselves through painting and other art forms.
A Beautiful Canvas for Creating Your Perfect Lifestyle
As you can see, when Heron’s Key is your home, you have an abundance of opportunities to ramp up your creativity quotient. Or, as one resident put it, to “give your soul a voice.” It’s an ideal home base for making the most of your independent lifestyle. Instead of spending your time and energy on a long list of things you have to do, you can focus on the more enjoyable things you want to do.
We invite you to follow us on Facebook, where we often post updates about the creative approaches our staff and residents take to make this community such a rewarding place to be. In the past many months, we’ve collaborated to create new ways to stay active, stay in touch and stay safe.
We also encourage you to keep exploring the Heron’s Key lifestyle here on our website. If you’re ready to start a conversation with us, we’d love to hear from you!
1 Girija Kaimal, Kendra Ray and Juan Muiz, “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making,” Art Therapy 33, no. 2 (April 2016): 74–80.
2 Harvard Health Publishing, “The healing power of art,” July 2017, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-healing-power-of-art.