Stress and anxiety seem to be part of most people’s lives today. There is always something to worry about, partly fed by the 24-hour news cycle of alarming issues and the frenetic pace of life. Social media anxiety is also common, particularly among the younger generation. A hundred years ago people no doubt had other matters to concern them such as world wars and infectious disease epidemics, but this does not lesson the encompassing pressures of the digital age.
Post-traumatic stress disorder from adverse childhood experience or other major trauma in later life is also common in our society and a condition we are becoming increasingly aware of in primary care. The mental and physical health implications of this in later life are a major challenge for those that suffer as well as those who care for them.
Medications and psychological therapies can be of benefit but they do not wipe out all the painful memories, flashbacks and the suppressed and dissociated thoughts loitering in the brain. Some sufferers look to drugs, tobacco and alcohol as an easy and immediate way of self-medicating, but the excessive amounts needed to quell anxiety can be extremely harmful.
Tango does not consider herself an art therapist but there is no doubt her art is therapy for those who participate
So are there other ways to calm the mind? Creative arts activities are well recognised for their therapeutic benefit. This may include music, dance, visual art, craft, theatre, writing and all forms of storytelling.
In the case of Art Magic: Remnant an exhibition recently held at the Lismore Regional Gallery, artist Hiromi Tango’s workshops involved so many of these cross art forms and she has the ability to engage people from all walks of life for activities that are calming, uplifting and a lot of fun.
Hiromi is a highly regarded sculptural installation and performance artist who uses textiles to weave together tactile and immersive environments by hand. Her stunningly intricate works use new and recycled fabrics, yarn and objects. She worked with local community members to make a Rainbow Forest, responding to the flora, fauna and landscape of the Lismore region.
Art therapy is based on the idea that the creative process of art making is healing and life enhancing – a form of non-verbal communication. Tango does not consider herself a professional art therapist but there is no doubt her art is therapy for those who participate as well as for those who view and appreciate her work.
Creating works of art or craft is an effective activity for working with both adults and children coping with many conditions affecting brain function, including trauma. The experience may act as a form of subconscious expression where hidden inner conflicts and emotions are aired. The process can engender self-esteem, self-awareness and lift the spirit.
There has always been a fascination amongst neuroscientists about the anatomy of the brain and function and in recent years this knowledge has advanced with technological advances in magnetic resonance neuroimaging (MRIs) which allows for observing which part of the brain responds to specific stimuli. Also the brain is now thought to be not made up of fixed circuitry like a computer but demonstrates neuroplasticity. That means it has the ability to change and adapt in response to different stimuli and experience.
When a traumatic event is recalled, neuroimaging can demonstrate dis-association (which can manifest as amnesia, de-personalisation and emotional detachment). The left prefrontal cortex, specifically Broca’s area (responsible for speech) remains relatively inactive whilst the right hemisphere particularly the region around the amygdala (associated with emotion and arousal from fear) is particularly active.
This fear, overpowering our ability to verbally communicate, can be reversed by relaxing and meditative activities which can regulate and calm down the stress response. Tango’s workshops engage the five senses in a way that has the potential to stimulate the areas of the brain relating to pleasure whilst shutting down the neurophysiological connections relating to fear.
What really matters is the benefit gained from these activities. Testimonials speak for themselves and the feedback from Tango’s workshops was impressive.
Such is the magic of Hiromi Tango’s art.