Going to a concert or painting repairs us emotionally

billy wilder He said: “If the cinema manages to make an individual forget for two seconds that he has parked the wrong car, has not paid the gas bill or has had an argument with his boss, then he has achieved his goal.” Culture is a healing space. It is something that we have seen in the last two years. Disconnecting at a concert, reading a book carefully, getting lost in a museum or getting emotional with a play have not only served as ways of disconnection, evasion and escape, but also of learning and emotional reconstruction. We are not referring only to cultural activities in which we are passive spectators, but also to activities that we actively carry out, such as writing, sculpting or painting.

There is scientific evidence that any cultural activity, whether passive or active, benefits mental health at different levels. If we look at the cognitive part, it focuses our attention on a dispersion of data and daily stimuli that saturate us. Reflecting fears, doubts and insecurities in a diary or in a text, for example, serves to organize ideas and calm down. Watching a movie can strengthen our episodic and semantic memory through the effort of storing the sequences that will be consolidated as memories. The intense reflection on existential and anthropological questions portrayed by the great directors, painters or writers provides us with references and knowledge that stimulate us intellectually. On a social level, attending the opera or the theater encourages us to share opinions, ideas, develop critical thinking and become more tolerant.

On a physical level, culture oxygenates and revitalizes us by putting our minds at peace, reducing anxiety and stress levels. Listening to music, for example, has a beneficial effect on brain chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin, and can help lower cortisol levels. In the emotional aspect, these activities put us in contact with our fears and fears, which allows us to better accept them. Identification with similar characters in a movie or a book, for example, increases our introspection and helps us get to know each other; but, at the same time, the experiences of antagonistic characters are a challenge by questioning our points of view. We also dedicate time to culture out of our own instinct for pleasure and entertainment. “In addition to logic, to survive this reality we need imagination,” he said. Alfred Hitchcock.

The thesis that artistic practices have positive effects on health and well-being has finally been supported by institutional bodies. This was published by the Office for the European Region of the World Health Organization in November 2019, in a report supported by more than 3,000 scientific studies. The WHO has urged European governments to introduce the arts into their health and wellness policies. In September 2020, the Spanish Senate made an institutional declaration to the Government in which it requests the declaration of culture as an essential asset.

In healthcare environments, some initiatives try to humanize the hospital experience of patients, family members and staff through cultural and artistic proposals, such as the one proposed by the Cultura en Vena foundation. In one of them, the exhibition Goya in a hospital It shows reproductions of works from the Prado Museum that include mediation texts that connect with the emotional experiences of the spectators. Living Museum is another movement dedicated to creating art spaces in mental health institutions.

Another way of bringing culture closer is by promoting reading activity. Every day, patients plagued by anguish, depression or helplessness approach the shelves in search of relief. As Guillermo Lahera, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Alcalá, says, “literature is a powerful source of meaning”. And for this purpose, literary recommendations or bibliotherapy are very useful because language structures the psyche. A few years ago, the British initiative Reading Well Books on Prescription gained wide acceptance from clinicians and patients. Similar projects have been carried out in Spain, such as that of Bibliotherapy-Healthy Readings, promoted by the Health Department of the Xunta de Galicia. It gives the possibility of choosing a book from a list divided by themes.

The increased incidence of anxious-depressive symptomatology, insomnia and stress has alerted experts to the search for complementary solutions to the usual treatment that mitigate this impact. We health workers have a propitious moment to recommend cultural activities that help rebuild the world and heal the soul. As Almudena Grandes used to say, “culture is an ingredient of happiness”. It is the perfect ally in this transition, because philosophy, literature and the arts help to better understand the complexity of human reality and to reconcile with what has been lived.

Patricia Fernández Martín is a clinical psychologist at the Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid.

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Going to a concert or painting repairs us emotionally