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Cancer Supportive and Survivorship Care Programs Improving Quality of Life Logo

Diversions - Creativity And Coping
Cynthia Perlis, BA; Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD; Isadora R. Rosenbaum, MA

Creative Expression to Improve Your Quality of Life
The Role of Mind in Health

Attitude
The Will to Live
The Role of Creating Art in Health


Creative Expression to Improve Your Quality of Life
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A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.
--Proverbs 17:22

Courage, hope, faith, sympathy, love promote health and prolong life. A contented mind, a cheerful spirit is health to the body and strength to the soul. How you live has a major effect on your health and your life. Not only your attitude but also your activities can promote better health.

Enhancing and enriching your quality of life heightens your emotional experiences and reduces depression. Your attitude depends in part on what you expect from life and how good you think your life has been. Health depends on the interaction between mind and body, joys and sadness, as well as the sense of security and being loved and appreciated.

To achieve a better quality of life, you need to involve yourself in a positive living program for the promotion of a healthy mind. The quality of life can be enhanced by the spiritual uplift and relaxation provided by interests and hobbies such as art, music, writing and humor. These can enrich your life through positive experiences. We achieve a special satisfaction through things that we create ourselves. This improves feelings of self worth, decreases depression and promotes a sense of well-being.


The Role of Mind in Health
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Good health is one of the greatest assets we have in life, for without it your future is uncertain. The mind plays a key role in promoting good health. If your health is impaired, through an accident or illness, life may become compromised by subsequent debilitation. Some of the new problems you may face are economic, social, emotional or psychological.

Recently there has been a shift in the philosophy of health care to a more holistic way of medical care as suggested by Plato a few thousand years ago. We can't separate the mental from the physical, since they are related as part of the whole body. Being a health care provider is like being a juggler trying to balance many balls--the medical, physical, environmental, psychological and nutritional in an attempt to keep the heart, brain and body healthy. Many authorities feel that 50 to 80 percent of illnesses are stress related, including high blood pressure, colds, depression and certain skin diseases.


Attitude
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Attitude has a major influence on your life and has become one of the important ingredients in living well and longer. It is in part shaped by our experiences, education and failures and successes. A positive attitude can help increase our ability to cope with life's problems or with a disease. We have a chance each day when we get up to make this a great day and achieve what we wish, or to merely accept events that occur and not try to improve your lot or set new goals. Some things in life are more difficult to change than others. Thus, how we live is in part controlled by our attitude toward life, which becomes the pivot on which the future hinges.


The Will to Live
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The will to live is nurtured by a positive attitude. A negative attitude can diminish or undermine the mind by fear, anger or loss of self-esteem. These emotions, when unresolved can lead to hopelessness, futility, resignation and the loss of the will to live.

Here are a few examples:
The phrase frightened to death is more than a figure of speech. An early reference to stress and fear is recorded in the Bible, in Acts 5, when Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, suddenly die after being castigated by Peter for withholding from the disciples some of the money paid for the sale of land. This has been attributed to a sudden coronary death from stress.
In primitive societies people have been literally frightened to death by the imposition of a curse or spell, known as bone pointing. When a person who believed in the phenomenon was boned, he or she withdrew from the world, stopped eating and waited to die. Death could take place in a few weeks. Such deaths have not been explained medically, even with an autopsy, but it seems apparent that the paralyzing effect of fear played an important role.
People with a positive attitude are able to be open, to talk about their problems with their family, friends and physicians. They feel good about themselves and generally have been that way all their lives.

The will to live is therefore a spiritual, emotional and ethical commodity. It needs nurturing and development and, if controlled, can strengthen a person's resolve to survive. We soon discover that the mind plays an important role in trying to control life, that there is a direct correlation between a person's mental and emotional states.

We measure successes and failures in life by our standards and ideals as we strive for goals in work, relationships and health. Just to survive makes for a shallow life. Victory is for those who have the courage and stamina to fight and endure each of life's many struggles and who always have goals and the satisfaction of aspiring to reach them whether they succeed or fail. This is the challenge of life.

The answer lies in your attitude toward life. We can help ourselves and others live better if we:
Live in the present and in the future, not in the past.
Set reasonable goals as to what can be accomplished.
Accept new problems and attempt to solve them through understanding and increased awareness.
Try to resolve depression and negative emotions.
Actively do things to help ourselves and others.
Learn techniques to relax and practice mind control by using simple methods to calm down, such as yoga or tai chi, or practice biofeedback or visualization.

The Role of Creating Art in Health
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Artistic expression is an important psychosocial activity. We can create art by ourselves, alone in a studio, or we can attend classes ranging from beginning drawing to advanced printmaking. Sometimes we can express ourselves visually when we are unable to express ourselves verbally. Art can help us express what we are feeling in the present, yet it can also help us to express a memory, a moment that has happened that we do not want to forget. Music, drawing, painting and creating sculpture provide a means of communication and self-expression--and a way to alleviate stress.

Art also helps us to change our moods, come out of depression or simply relax.

Art can be richly therapeutic for people, including the elderly, with a serious illness such as cancer. Suzanne, a woman approaching 80 who is living a full and energetic life in spite of her advanced cancer, has continued to teach art classes, take printmaking classes and work in her home studio. Her recent works have included drawings and watercolors that express what it feels like to cope with life-threatening illness. She has created drawings that tell the story of her disease. One watercolor, The Cell of Positive Thinking, was created when she began a course of chemotherapy.

Creating art, says Suzanne, improves her self-worth and leaves a permanent gift to be enjoyed by all. She has received constant encouragement and support from her friends and family. They drive her to art classes and create along with her. Together they are participating in a shared experience, a shared community of meaning; the essence of what it means to be human.

You do not have to have artistic ability to be creative. Sometimes just doodling or experimenting with art materials can open up a wide range of ideas. People often become too critical of their work--or are afraid others will judge their ability. It is important to express yourself for yourself and not for everyone's approval. There really is no right or wrong in expressing who you are. For instance, if you feel you cannot draw, try making collages from pictures cut from magazines.

Creating art at any age gives people an opportunity to express what they are feeling. Creating art provides the ability to make decisions for oneself. With the opportunity to make decisions, to exercise control over choice, people enhance their quality of life, improve self-esteem and create ways to relate to others in a meaningful way.

A whole life or one experience can be shared in a work of art. One artist writes, "No, I will never say my work is finished. I must live forever--on and on. The reason we artists enjoy such longevity is that we are always looking ahead to the masterpiece to come."

Here are some recommended creative art activities:
Draw a self-portrait. Include words to describe who you are
Draw what you see when you look in the mirror
Take painting, drawing or sculpture classes
Draw your dreams
Make a collage with pictures cut out of magazines. Decide on a theme before you start or let the theme evolve.
Ask your friend, child, grandchild or spouse to draw how they see you.

Art for Recovery is an award-winning program of the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center. Individuals coping with life-threatening illness are given an opportunity to express their feelings and experiences through art workshops, visits at the bedside, and individual attention. Artistic ability is not necessary to participate. Conceived in 1988 by Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD, and directed by Cynthia D. Perlis since its inception, the program brings artists and medical students to the patients to listen, to share, and to express through words, images, music, and quilts what it looks like and feels like to cope with an illness.

We invite you to share the artistic expressions of Art for Recovery participants by visiting our gallery and poetry collection -- Word & Image; by reading more about our programs; and by sharing your thoughts and contributions.

Art for Recovery
http://cancer.ucsf.edu/afr/index.html



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First appeared May 1, 1999; updated November 8, 2007