Doodling. That thing your teachers used to shame you for, claiming you are not paying attention and demanding in an effort to shame you that you show the class your work. Doodling is largely viewed negatively. Conventionally it is considered mindless, meaningless scribbling of the mentally distracted or bored and is implicitly if not explicitly discouraged especially for students. Proponents though insist that doodling is an underused, under-appreciated learning tool. In these undoubtedly difficult times, here are some mental health benefits of doodling and then some.
Helps with anxiety and stress levels
Doodling is a verified de-stressor. One study found that participants who made art whether the art was representational or mere scribbling had lower levels of cortisol (stress hormones) in their saliva. Some students were artists while others were not yet both received similar results making doodling an equal opportunity de-stressor.
In the type of doodling where you repeat words, shapes, or patterns, this repeated activity slows down your brain putting the brakes on overthinking, wandering thoughts, and negative thoughts. This is especially beneficial to people dealing with anxiety. This is why it’s healthy to doodle while in stressful situations such as just before a test or interview.
Doodling whether on a blank paper or a colouring book helps calm the amygdala which is the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response. This has a calming effect.
Spending a lot of time indoors has the disadvantage of leading to the rise of potentially addictive behaviours such as binge-watching and device-using. While there are no simple solutions to that, it helps to find simple alternative sources of pleasure. Researchers found that activities such as doodling activated the reward pathways in the brain concluding that art and doodling can be used to regulate mood and addictive behaviours. Because it’s a fun and playful activity, the body releases endorphins which are feel-good chemicals that promote a sense of well-being and temporarily relieve pain.
Enhances our focus and memory recall
One study found that students who doodled during a lecture or meeting recalled more information than those who did not. The researchers theorized that doodling helps improve concentration because it requires just enough energy to keep you from daydreaming while still paying attention to your environment. Doodling helps anchor your attention and keeps you from zoning out. It helps keep people somewhat alert during boring activities. Another study found that doodling in lectures helps not just in recall but also in understanding.
Helps with understanding yourself and authenticity
Doodling is an avenue of self-expression. This complex interaction between the eye, brain, central nervous system, and eyes reflects brain activity. You essentially express your whole unique psychological profile on paper. These random drawings and markings are not meaningless. They can help people understand themselves better because they act like a doorway revealing what is going on in the subconscious. It is an expression of our inner selves. Some doctors have even used doodles to diagnose emotional problems in patients.
It is not about what you doodle but how you doodle. It’s about where you draw, the size of the doodle, the pressure you’re using all of which reveal the doodler’s state of mind and even their personality. This authenticity in doodles is a welcome break from the performativity that is present in daily life in interactions such as zoom meetings.
Problem solving and creativity
Doodling helps to generate fresh ideas. This may be because it distracts people from focusing on the problem allowing the subconscious mind to kick it around and find inspiring solutions. Doodling also helps people access their creative side. Utilizing this creative part helps people come up with different ideas. This creative outlet combined with problem-solving has the added benefit of increasing overall happiness.
Who knew random marks on a piece of paper can release your stress and anxiety, boost your focus and recall and help with problem-solving, creativity while releasing feel-good hormones? Grab a piece of paper and start scribbling around.