Why You Need a Creative Outlet


Research has shown that partaking in creative outlets creates stronger social relationships, reduces stress, and allows us to develop a deeper appreciation for the world around us [1]. It also helps boost confidence, foster innovation and develop extended social networks [2]. Not to mention improving mental health, reducing anxiety and helping to combat dementia [3].

But don’t just take our word for it. Gavin Clayton, executive director of the leading mental health and arts charity Arts and Minds, conducted research over a seven-year period in which participants experiencing stress, depression, and anxiety partook in activities such as sculpture, oil painting, and printmaking. The study found a 71% decrease in feelings of anxiety and a 73% fall in depression. Around 76% of participants said their well-being increased and 69% felt more socially included [4].

A similar study at Drexel University found that 75% of participants experienced lower cortisol levels, a marker of stress, after engaging in 45 minutes of art-making [5]. Other research has found that writing helps people manage their negative emotions in a productive way, and painting or drawing helps people express trauma or experiences that they find too difficult to put into words [6].

The healing power of art

Shereen Bar-or Becerra, Creative Arts Therapist and Founder of Art Therapy Collective in New York, says that “if variety is the spice of life, creativity is the seasoning…When we practise self expression through nonverbal means, we are able to organise and process difficult emotions and increase our capacity for frustration tolerance while inherently improving our quality of life and capacity for joy.” [7]

“The arts can bring a feeling of playfulness to places you’d not expect to find them,” says Nils Fietje, of the WHO’s regional office in Copenhagen [8]. As such, art is often used as a way of healing. Fietje was specifically speaking about the role of clown doctors when making the above statement. These doctors are from Red Noses International, working at emergency accommodation centres in Moldova following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In a similar vein Rachel Clarke-Hughes, head of engagement at the Playhouse Theatre in Derry City, works with victims and survivors of The Troubles so that they can share their personal testimonies on stage with live audiences. “It’s about truth, healing and reconciliation through arts and storytelling,” she said, speaking to the Irish Times. [9]

Wounded civilians displaced by war and survivors of intense national trauma are extreme examples of art being used to heal. But it can and does also help fix more day-to-day struggles.

Art vs workaholism

Productivity culture is at a fever pitch. We must all have a primary and side-hustle. We must be seizing the day, getting up at 5am, being the hardest worker in the room, doling out high-octane productivity mantras on LinkedIn and consuming them back triple-fold. We must work ourselves into the ground until we’re so burned out that we’re not useful to anyone, least of all ourselves.

Or, we could treat our minds and bodies with a little respect and find some balance.

“Workaholic culture insists that being successful means making big sacrifices outside of work, even at the expense of personal health, but I’ve come to believe that it’s not all or nothing,” says Kenny Mendes, Head of People and Operations at Coda, speaking to Forbes. “I urge younger workers to think about sustainable high performance over a long career — it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” [10]

Mendes sees creative outlets outside of work as pivotal to that longevity. He says that not only will it be a stress release, offering all the aforementioned benefits, but it will improve your at-work performance as well. “Finding an outlet that helps clear your mind and gets you into a different state of flow leads to better performance during your 9–5,” he says. [11]

Keeping art separate

Despite Mendes’ insistence that an outside hobby makes a positive impact on work performance, others insist it’s important to keep your creative outlet entirely separate from your working day-to-day. It’s not an additional side-hustle, it’s not a self-improvement tool –– quite the opposite, it’s a way to detach and unwind.

“For me, I like to think of leisure in its purest sense — that is, it is time away from work, not facilitating it,” said Thomas Fletcher, chairman of Leisure Studies Association and a senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University. “Is a hobby actually leisure if we are making money from it?” [12]

Fletcher argues that in viewing our hobbies as something that can add richness to our work, we have got things entirely inside out. We should instead be using our work as a way to add more value to our life. “In thinking about the relationship between work and leisure,” he said, “I would argue that rather than thinking about how leisure can promote greater productivity at work, a more important consideration is about how work inhibits our leisure time.” [13]

Art for women

Eve Rodsky, author of Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World, argues that women, in particular, are in need of space to pursue a creative outlet.

“The expectations on women, especially after they have children, are that we will be happy and fulfilled by staying within three boxes,” she says. “(1) We’re allowed to be parents of children. (2) We’re allowed to be partners. (3) We’re allowed to make money because we have to help our household. If you want to be an acrobat, if you want to be a baker, if you want to be a mountain climber, or if you want to pursue anything for yourself, society will shame you back into one of those three boxes.” [14]

Rodsky argues that society has come to view men’s time as significantly more valuable than women’s time. “Society views men’s time as if it’s finite like diamonds, and it views and treats women’s time as if it’s infinite like sand,” she says. “And when you have that type of discrepancy it leads to internalised guilt and shame for our own time choice.” [15]

She cites the fact that even in our supposedly equal society, school nurses will always call the mother parent over the father to come collect their sick child from school. The mother’s day can be put on pause. The father’s time should not be interrupted.

Rodsky says creative time or unicorn space offers women sanctuary from the world of deadlines, expectations and other people’s demands, while also serving as inspiration for other aspects of life. It is “not just a hobby,” writes Elizabeth Pearson, profiling Rodsky in Forbes, “it’s an essential element of a woman’s life, supporting both [their] career and personal well-being.” [16]

Getting started

For those unsure how to get started in their creative outlet, Wendy Raquel Robinson, an Emmy Award-winning producer, philanthropist and actress, suggests starting with classes. “Even if it’s just online, if you’re not ready to dive into a class, you can join or even just watch a class online. Even just watching a YouTube video on how to do something to pique your interest. Start with watching, learning, taking notes, and getting a good feel for it.” [17]

Robinson also advocates journaling. “​​Start with writing your thoughts out every day. It’s cathartic and also, when you look back and see the growth from month to month, it’s powerful.”

Meanwhile, Bar-or Becerra says, “The best way to begin anything is to follow your feet –– lean into what makes you feel present. Self-awareness is required for active engagement so begin by noticing the moments that bring you joy or grounding. Being creative and intuitive can be as simple as learning how to create cohesion and connection with your internal and external world.” [18]

What can leaders do?

In a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum, 90% of business leaders highlighted the importance of creativity in remaining competitive [19]. As such, it behoves managers to do everything in their power to support their staff’s creative endeavours, inside the office and out.

It may seem like it’s not the manager’s place to intervene in creative matters. Speaking at a two-day colloquium at Harvard Business School, Intuit co-founder Scott Cook wondered whether management was “a net positive or a net negative” for creativity. “If there is a bottleneck in organisational creativity,” he asked, “might it be at the top of the bottle?” [20]

During the conference, leaders came to a useful realisation: One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity.

Cook told the story of an eye-opening analysis of innovations at Google: Its founders tracked the progress of ideas that they had backed versus ideas that had been executed in the ranks without support from above, and discovered a higher success rate in the latter category. Companies need to break past the “lone inventor myth” in which they’re reliant on one supposedly genius founder to innovate alone. It’s an unsustainable model.

Other suggested creativity hacks are to not allow any bureaucracy into the initial creative stages –– let creatives work freely before deciding whether or not an idea is possible. Putting a ceiling on things too early can restrict creativity. Also, leaders should make their teams diverse –– in race, gender, age and thought. Having a wide range of viewpoints helps creativity grow.

Leaders can also make sure they support staff in their creative endeavours outside the office. Ray Corral, founder of Mosaicist in Coral Gables, offers grants and space to his workers to help develop their own individual pursuits. On top of that, each year his whole team gets together to create something new unrelated to the work they do. “This annual tradition fosters personal growth and satisfaction and injects a fresh, innovative spirit into our workplace,” he says. [21]

Why you need a creative outlet

Creative outlets offer an endless list of benefits: improved mental health, less stress, greater productivity, inspiration, a way to unwind and disconnect, a way to forge new communities, and a way to combat workaholism. Its benefits can be especially helpful for women, who need time to pursue their passions free from societal pressure to adhere to some reductive norm. Classes and journaling can be a great way to start, but the truth is only you know exactly what it is you want to pursue –– follow that urge. And if you’re a manager, do everything you can to support creative outlets in your team. A workforce that is happy and creative benefits everyone.

More On Burnout

The Burnout Epidemic

The Million-Dollar Impact of Burnout & Busyness Culture

Mindfulness in the workplace

More On Creativity

Walking, and the benefits of everyday creativity

The value of creativity with Pat Stephenson – Podcast

From Creative Visionary to World-Renowned Artist: The Inspiring Journey of Paul Hughes – Podcast


[1] https://www.mciinstitute.edu.au/wellbeing/creative-outlets

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/elizabethpearson/2023/10/20/why-having-a-creative-outlet-leads-to-career-success/?sh=2bd442937cc9

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16439826

[4] https://www.mciinstitute.edu.au/wellbeing/creative-outlets

[5] https://drexel.edu/news/archive/2016/june/art_hormone_levels_lower

[6] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320947.php

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jesscording/2023/08/14/why-and-how-to-nurture-your-creative-side-at-work/?sh=20b4cada154e

[8] https://www.irishtimes.com/science/2023/04/06/can-creative-arts-projects-help-people-deal-with-trauma-from-personal-or-group-conflict/

[9] https://www.irishtimes.com/science/2023/04/06/can-creative-arts-projects-help-people-deal-with-trauma-from-personal-or-group-conflict/

[10] https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/08/02/3-reasons-having-a-creative-passion-can-save-you-from-workaholism/?sh=48d4b6ab71c4

[11] https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/08/02/3-reasons-having-a-creative-passion-can-save-you-from-workaholism/?sh=48d4b6ab71c4

[12] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/10/smarter-living/the-case-for-hobbies-ideas.html

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/10/smarter-living/the-case-for-hobbies-ideas.html

[14] https://www.forbes.com/sites/elizabethpearson/2023/10/20/why-having-a-creative-outlet-leads-to-career-success/?sh=2bd442937cc9

[15] https://www.forbes.com/sites/elizabethpearson/2023/10/20/why-having-a-creative-outlet-leads-to-career-success/?sh=2bd442937cc9

[16] https://www.forbes.com/sites/elizabethpearson/2023/10/20/why-having-a-creative-outlet-leads-to-career-success/?sh=2bd442937cc9

[17] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jesscording/2023/08/14/why-and-how-to-nurture-your-creative-side-at-work/?sh=20b4cada154e

[18] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jesscording/2023/08/14/why-and-how-to-nurture-your-creative-side-at-work/?sh=20b4cada154e

[19] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-creativity/

[20] https://hbr.org/2008/10/creativity-and-the-role-of-the-leader

[21] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2024/05/07/art-in-business-a-fresh-path-to-boosting-creativity-and-wellness/?sh=2194a0892265