Martha looking excited in a red jacket. Holding a trailing green plant in a white pot.

A few months ago, I began microdosing to lower my anxiety. It worked—my anxiety dropped and my enjoyment of life improved sharply. I must confess, though, that I didn’t stop with microdoses. I increased my intake. A lot. These days, I think most folks would say I’m megadosing.

Fortunately, I’m not talking about medication. I’m talking about the arts.

Art as Medicine

In their new book Your Brain on Art, Susan Magsamen and Ivy Rose discuss the abundant scientific evidence that making or appreciating art boosts our happiness. “Just twenty minutes of doodling or humming,” they say, “can provide immediate support for your physical and mental state.”

Magsamen and Rose call this “microdosing aesthetics.” If we can take 20 minutes away from doomscrolling, overworking, and worrying to spend on art, they claim, we can lower our anxiety, lift our mood, and generally improve our lives.

Always happy to find a new life coaching tool, I decided to test this bold assertion. Since I like visual arts, I committed to drawing for 20 minutes first thing every morning. I planned to watch myself closely to see if this did, in fact, change my mood.

Holy crap, y’all.

It Works! It Works!

From the first day I began microdosing art, the whole pattern of my life changed dramatically. I need a lot of sleep and am emphatically not a morning person. If anything, I have something of a morning phobia. Usually I have to meditate for an hour or more after getting up, just to calm my nerves. 

Once I started microdosing art, I began to wake up early—sometimes as early as 4:30 AM, a time I once believed to be purely fictional. The excitement of getting to make stuff pulls me out of bed like a bungee cord. I don’t feel the need for breakfast or even coffee; I just want to play with my art supplies.

I’ve happily thrown away almost everything I’ve made. It’s not great, or even good. That’s not the point. The point is: !!!!! I can’t even describe the feeling because the right hemisphere of the brain, where creative artistic work happens, rarely uses words. 

Pick Your Art and Start Microdosing

Any artistic activity can lower our anxiety and boost our wellbeing: coloring, dancing, sculpting, quilting, playing an instrument, knitting, creative writing, cooking—choose your favorite. As you microdose, don’t even think about the result. For a while, don’t show anyone your process or the result. This is not a competition; it’s medicine for your happiness.

Making or bringing more art into our lives creates what scientists call an “enriched environment.” This makes us healthier and also smarter—it develops more neural connections in our brains and may even stave off age-related brain deterioration.

As Magsamen and Rose remind us, “The ultimate enriched environment is nature. Nature is the most aesthetic of places because it is our original home.” So if you’re feeling particularly anxious or miserable, if you’re serious about taking your medicine, combine art and nature. 

When I draw or paint natural objects, including people, I feel the way I suspect a high-quality antidepressant might make me feel. Time stops. I feel totally present. I may focus intensely on figuring out an artistic process, but other problems seem to disappear. 

So yes, I’ve upped my dosage. These days I draw all day, off and on, in every moment I can spare. And like any fan of a new and curative medicine, I’d love to see other people—you, for example—get the same benefits.

The Side Effects

I must advise you that since I started art-binging, I’ve noticed side effects. I’m more creative about problem solving with my family and career. I have dreams and hopes that popped out of nowhere, making the future feel seductive instead of gloomy. I have a strange, euphoric sense that with a human brain and body tuned in to creativity, a person could do almost anything. 

If you try microdosing aesthetics, I can’t guarantee what will happen. Nobody knows what you’ll make with your art. Nobody knows what you’ll make with your soul. Nobody knows what you’ll make with your life. But I’m betting it will feel really, really good.

Discover additional articles, videos, podcast episodes, and mini-books in Martha’s series on anxiety on The Beyond Anxiety Hub.

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