Painting for my mental health

4 min read

An extrovert’s perspective

It feels nostalgic (yet tiny bit heartbreaking) to say that it has almost been a decade since I graduated from university. As a biological science major who spent most of my time in a lab, there was one thing I was sure of after graduation. I would not spend the next few years enclosed in a lab. I craved human interaction – seeing new faces, having new conversations. However, I was also not about to let my hard-earned degree go to waste.

Fast forward to the present, as an educator in Science Centre, I spend most of my typical day interacting with guests. It almost sounds perfect for an extrovert with a science degree, doesn’t it? Well, it is, most days. But there are also difficult days, when I would feel mentally drained and beaten down, yearning to head home and just not talk to anyone. In an endless string of tough days, I started to have migraines more frequently.

You’ve probably heard of our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which is triggered by stress when we detect threats in our environment. During periods of stress, it is up to our immune system to keep us safe. Adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine – these are stress hormones made by our adrenal glands that cause physiological changes in our body. Naturally, when the danger level is alleviated, our stress response would cease and our bodies would return to its normal state. But when stress is prolonged, our brain and body go into overdrive, and struggle to maintain the stress response. This negatively impacts our mental health, possibly resulting in anxiety attacks and depression. So how can we manage our stress?

Although exercise is a big part of my life, there were days when I wanted to destress in the comfort of my couch. I found myself turning to a colouring app on my phone where I coloured pictures with numbers. Hours flew by and I found myself feeling so much better apart from the slight discomfort in my eyes from staring at my phone for so long. Soon, I realised painting to be my favourite way to relieve stress. It may sound pretty introverted for an extrovert, but it has multiple benefits for my mental health. 

Firstly, it relaxes my mind. Painting is a modern form of rehabilitation for patients recovering from brain injury. The activity is a respite for the mind, allowing individuals to forget the stressors in one’s life, which is crucial for someone recovering from brain trauma. By reducing the release of stress hormones in your body, it provides time for it to heal physically and mentally.

The next wonderful advantage to painting is the endless creativity. There is no right or wrong with painting. It is a known fact that whenever you learn something new, your brain forms new neural connections. Exploring your creativity allows you to try out different things – mixing different paint colours, creating new paint patterns while increasing the neural connections. This keeps the brain active even through ageing. There is a legitimate reason to why painting is a popular activity for both the young and the young at heart!

Last but not least, painting helps me grow my emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and those of people around you. Being the extrovert I am, I love talking to people, making them smile and laugh. However, I struggle to talk about my emotions. It may seem ironic for someone who is so confident, but the fear of vulnerability is real. Sometimes, my inability to convey my emotions may affect the people around me – yes, I am referring to the mood swings we all experience. The quiet time I have while painting allows me to understand, process and express my emotions through the myriad of colours and brushstrokes on the canvas. What triggers these emotions? How did it affect my actions and the people around me? As long as I paint, I allow myself to develop my emotional intelligence.

I am not saying I’m creating Picasso-worthy masterpieces on my couch, but they do make my brain relaxed, happy and connected. If you ever find yourself mentally drained, try downloading a colouring app named “HappyColour” (such an apt name!) and start colouring! Alternatively, if you prefer a more hands-on approach, try searching for “Paint by numbers” canvas designs that provide all the materials you need to start painting. Just remember, a happy mind means a happy you!

Written by Sharmin Taj
Illustrations by Lee Ai Cing


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