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Sonoma County PACEs Connection (CA)

Stress-related hormone cortisol lowers significantly after just 45 minutes of art creation

I know that I'm preaching to the choir with this article (Stress-related hormone cortisol lowers significantly after just 45 minutes of art creation), but I'd like to share a personal story and along with it a some floating hopes I have in all of this trauma-informed work that we strive to do. 

My Brief Story

I didn't always like to paint. In fact, I hated it because I was high-achieving and didn't think I was good enough to do it. One day my senior year of college, a friend of mine (let's call him "W") brought his new girlfriend (let's call her "K") to a party. She was an Art major and I can't say that we ever really got close or got along. But that night, we were all drawing on a whiteboard in W's room and I drew a person with a big head with very distinct facial features. It was a scribble that was more of a joke than an intentional piece of art.

As I drew features onto the face, K said to me, "wow, I love how confident your lines are. You don't take the marker off the board until you've completed a line. It's so bold." 



Before this moment, I never had considered that ME-- a mediocre (at best) artist-- could still be someone that possessed an artistic style. It was in that moment, that I first began to appreciate and embrace my own creative process and artistic style. I’ve always loved to draw, but just never felt I was very “good at it,” so I never spent much time on it. Especially since as a child, even though I loved art classes, my sister was always praised as the “artist of the family.” With little affirmation for what I was creating, I lost value in my own artistic self.

This article validates much of the work that we strive to promote at the Dept. of Health Services through out home-visiting programs. Just yesterday, the Sonoma County Home Visiting Advisory Collaborative met and collaborated on the types of art projects that can be introduced to families. Why do we talk about this?

Let me allow another article to help explain why….

A groundbreaking study offers undeniable proof that the fight against inequality starts with moms

This article states that, “children born into poverty start at a big disadvantage. To thrive, they need food shelter, and health care. But a growing body of evidence shows there are other ways to help close the vast gap in development between poor kids and their wealthier peers—singing, talking, and playing with them.

If this sounds obvious or inconsequential, it’s not. Dealing with the stress of poverty makes it hard for many parents to establish critical bonds with their babies—bonds that lay the foundations for learning, emotional regulation, and relationships. Poor parents are “focused on survival and illness and food and health care,” says Sally Grantham-McGregor, an emeritus professor of international child health at University College London and University of the West Indies. “There’s no time to play with children—it seems frivolous.”

I was not born in a poor house, so what does this article have to do with me and my complicated relationship with art?

The takeaway is that while it is most essential to figure out ways to address the gaps between rich and poor children (ideally by sweeping policy ideas like the Secondary Earner Deduction), it is important for every child to have bonds that lay the foundations for learning, emotional regulation, and relationships. 

And in the home visiting programs in Sonoma County, our home visitors use art as a way to facilitate these bonds between children and their parents. Even while the babies are still a bit too young to draw, our nurses in Nurse Family Partnership make it a point to host art events for their clients to soothe their own nervous systems from past trauma, with the intention of promoting healing in moms and also reduce the amount of trauma transferred to the child.

Those floating hopes I promised

I mentioned at the beginning that I had some floating hopes for all of the trauma-informed work we strive to do in Sonoma County:

  • Work on healing everyone’s trauma- adults and children
  • Preventing trauma, especially for our younger population (<18 years old because that’s what the original ACEs study was about, right?)
  • We remember that while everyone has trauma, there are those that suffer unequally. Poverty is a huge challenge for many families. A Netflix membership is as low as $7.99/month. How much is a tube of acrylic paint? Sometimes, more than $7.99 for just one color.

    Why do I feel the need to mention the high cost of “nice art supplies?” Because, as I tried to emphasize with my personal story, we live in a society that doesn’t value the creative process or encourage all individuals to find their outlet of creativity. We live in a society in which many stop using crayons and markers because it’s for smaller children and adults that do art should use “adult supplies.” We live in a society that praises “good art” and buries the idea that any and all art making is good because it makes people feel good. Beyond, making people feel good, there’s some science to show that:

    Creativity is Good for Your Health
    And that last, third, article can direct you to some studies from the National Institutes of Health that establish the relationship between creativity and healing and demonstrate how creativity combats stress.


Solutions aren’t easy things to come by. But I’m a firm believer that everyone has an artist in themselves, and that a box of markers for every person might be part of our “trauma” solution.

I hope you enjoyed my "thought safari." More importantly, I hope my points were all understood. Thanks for sticking out the journey. 

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