A creative world – helping us through lockdown

From painting rainbows, singing on balconies, to baking, sowing and dancing around our living rooms (whether we’re any good or not!) the world quickly discovered that turning to the Arts and Creativity has helped us cope through the unsettling times we find ourselves in.

The link between creativity and mental health and wellbeing has long been studied, with growing evidence of the positive impact the arts have on improving mental and physical health.

The rainbow itself quickly turned into a symbolic demonstration of the country’s united appreciation of our NHS and keyworkers and was one of the very first examples of how art brought families and communities together. The colourful images popped up on every street corner, decorating towns and villages, where they are seen as a powerful sign of hope, pride and in unity.

During such times of sustained isolation and prolonged lack of physical contact with our family and friends, anxious thoughts can be far more difficult to escape. The participation in a creative act can focus the mind and provide a distraction, giving our brains a break from our thoughts. Indeed, creativity has been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress, and also helps to process trauma and crisis. On top of this, creativity has been shown to boost self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment. Creating something for ourselves or for others can boost our feelings of pride and the belief of our own abilities.

Speaking with local artist Sally Seal, we asked her how she has been coping during lockdown and how her art has helped her through these challenging times. “As an artist working from home, life in lockdown hasn’t been all that different for me. The biggest challenge has been having everyone at home all the time and finding a way to manage home-schooling with homeworking. I’ve not been able to paint as much as I would normally but I feel very fortunate to have a home studio to disappear to when I need some quiet time away from the noise of family life.”

Sally continued “Although time has had to be managed differently in lockdown, the pace has slowed somewhat and this has allowed me to be more creative. Having time to reflect on things has helped me find a more emotional response in my art and I have found myself painting in a more abstract way”.

Discovering how art has also been helping her two daughters, Sally told us “My eldest daughter has shown a new interest in art during lockdown. She has never liked art before, but somehow in all this madness she has found comfort in keeping a sketchbook of doodles.

“Art is a great way for children to focus and encourages mindfulness. I find my girls open up while they’re busy creating something and we have lovely chats. I think they have both found comfort in expressing themselves in a creative way.”

Sally added “Lockdown has been stressful at times and has brought with it new anxieties, new ways of living together and new coping mechanisms and escape routes (art and running are mine), but mostly it has brought us time together as a family that we would not normally have had and as a mum and wife I have cherished that.”

Lockdown for many of us has meant having the time to re-engage with that old hobby we once loved or having the time to pick up a new one. For some this has been learning to play a musical instrument, or learning to sing, many of us have even turned our hands to gardening, sowing and baking – some with successful results, others not so! Many have even tried to learn to dance with the help of online classes, such as with Sevenoaks’ own Anton du Beke, who has been offering free dance lessons from learning the Salsa to the Tango!

Dance, as with any exercise, releases dopamine known as the ‘feel good hormone’ and can also improve our confidence as well as reduce stress and anxieties.

It’s fair to say life under lockdown and the impact of COVID-19 has undoubtedly affected us all, and also in many different ways. Local photographer Kerry Barton, from Studio23, found lockdown particularly hard and found herself suffering with debilitating anxiety issues.

Kerry told us: “I couldn’t concentrate on anything or even contemplate leaving the house, touching the door handle was an issue at times, as that meant I was going out. I got so worried, I could feel my heart race and feel it was beating out of my chest, I felt like I couldn’t breathe at times. I’ve never experienced anxiety to this extreme before.”

Kerry helped set up a Covid-19 help group, but soon found she wasn’t able to help herself, let alone others in the group. “I felt useless, the group got so big so quickly.”

Feeling completely overwhelmed, Kerry found she needed something to turn to “This was a huge change for my family, for all of us. I had to do something to stop these anxious feelings.”

It took Kerry five weeks to pluck up the courage to get in touch with local residents, but having been inspired by two photographers JJ Waller from Brighton and Birgitta, Kerry began taking doorstep portraits of local residents whilst they were stood outside clapping for the NHS on Thursday evenings.

“As soon as I got to take a few photos in my own road, something clicked.” It wasn’t long before Kerry became inundated with requests for her ‘doorstep photographs’. “I had 30 booked in the first week, with more and more everyday – new babies and many birthdays (including my own) in lockdown”.

Understandably, Kerry was keen to make sure she followed all social distancing and government rules whilst taking her photographs. “I made sure I had clear guidelines in place from the off, I don’t want to put myself or my young family in danger. I take every precaution for my safety and theirs.”

It didn’t take long for Kerry to realise the benefits taking these portraits were having on her mental health and wellbeing.

“I feel these portrait shoots are a coping mechanism and it works. I get out most days and it recharges my mood. Everything is a pressure and a stress in lockdown, these portraits have saved my sanity!”

Kerry also discovered that not only were the portraits such a great source of comfort and help for her, but that they were also helping others. “I had people wanting my help, needing their photos taken. Some of these people are really lonely, they might not have seen another person in a while. I couldn’t not respond to the many messages [I received]!”

Kerry’s doorstep portraits are also providing much needed funds for West Kent Mind, as all the money raised from her project are being donated to the mental health charity – who are great friends of ours here at Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing magazine.

Lorna Sharp at West Kent Mind commented on Kerry’s achievements, saying: “We are hugely grateful to Kerry for choosing West Kent Mind as the charity beneficiary of this great project. We love anything that can bring our community closer together, especially in the current environment. The doorstep photography was an inspired idea and has generated some truly wonderful images that capture this moment in history and the community spirit it has inspired”.

It is in these testing times that we find ourselves in, that we come to realise the significance and the importance that the Arts and Creativity has in helping us deal with our anxiety and emotions.

Through a creative medium we are able to communicate and express our emotions and thoughts. From the young and old alike, the arts are vital tools in ensuring our wellbeing.

• You can contact Sally through her Instagram account @sallyseal.art. Kerry can be contacted through her website at studio23photography.co.uk or if you would like to make a donation please visit justgiving.com/fundraising/ studio23photography.