When I walked into a coffee stop during off-hours, I did not expect to leave with a thirst for knowledge. At the beginning of the event, when I joined the humble smattering of people at a table, there were people I did not know. I asked my usual question: “Do you all have any hobbies?”
Over the next twenty minutes, the woman next to me—Kathy—and I discussed art. Kathy explained she participated in creating art without an intrinsic passion for the subject. I was intrigued and asked, “Why?” She said art makes her feel better.
After several weeks, I had the same gnawing curiosity of how someone can create art to feel better and not from an intrinsic passion for the subject. On March 20, 2023, I began an individual case study. After acquiring a Fitbit Inspire from an elderly couple on Craigslist, I wrote my research question: Can creating art twice a week during six months of prolonged stress change responses to stress and improve mood? I hypothesized that creating art lowered the heart rate, thus lulling a person into a state of flow, which improved mood. According to Psychology Today, flow(1) is a cognitive state with intense focus, creative engagement, and loss of time and self-awareness.
On May 6, 2023, after six weeks of data collection, I noticed the opposite of my hypothesis was occurring. My heart rate increased during art making. My resting heart rate was 60 beats per minute (bpm). During art making, my heart rate increased by 20 bpm. An added 20 bpm was significant in creating a flow-like state when creating. I observed my resting heart rate lowered and fluctuated daily.
The resting heart rate bpm with the highest bar is the one with the most data inputs over a period of six months. On August 20, 2023, my resting heart rate was 49 bpm. In March 2023, my resting heart rate was 65 bpm. Resting heart rate is the number of times a person’s heart beats per minute when relaxed. Every person has a different resting heart rate. A lower resting heart rate can indicate a heart that is fit and working efficiently. My new hypothesis is that art creation with flow promotes a healthy heart by lowering resting heart rates over a lengthy period.
1 “Flow | Psychology Today.” Psychology Today, www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/flow. Accessed 4 Jan. 2024.
Shannon Kiley graduated from Sonoma State University with a BA in psychology. She lives in Sacramento, California. She is the self-published author of Rise Above Poetry Book (2020) and Turn the Tide Poetry Book (2021).
Featured image by Rifqi Ali Ridho.