Doing arts and crafts is good for your health.

From painting and coloring to sketching and sidewalk-chalk drawing, the extra time at home recently has unleashed the creative sides of many.

It makes sense that people would turn to art, especially when quarantined. Creating art offers a chance to produce something beautiful while calming the mind.

Patty Magee, MA, RN-BC, Caring Arts Program founder and Arts in Medicine coordinator for Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, has observed firsthand the healing power of art in the cancer patients she works with every week.

“Creativity helps to open the door into their soul,” she said. “It allows them to say ‘This is how I’m feeling right now. This is who I am.”

A review of the connection between art, healing and public health published by the National Institutes of Health notes numerous benefits for cancer patients who engage in the visual arts, including reduced stress and negative emotions and increased focus on positive life experiences.

How can you embrace the arts to keep yourself calm? Magee has some tips.

  1. Choose a subject you love, and let that be your inspiration. Magee works with patients undergoing chemotherapy to liven up their infusion poles. A scuba diver turned his into a diving flag using red paper with a white diagonal stripe. 
  2. Carve out a studio in your home. If you have a designated place where you go to create, you’ll be more committed. It makes your art feel more special and restorative.
  3. Carry a sketchbook with you. This is a good way to be ready when inspiration strikes.
  4. Repurpose unused items in your home and use them to create art. This is a great project to do with your kids, too. Find something that you were planning to recycle, and think of a way to turn it into an art project.
  5. Find a group of people interested in the same type of artwork as you. Maybe you love to knit, and you can’t meet with your knitting circle in person right now. Set up a Zoom meeting to discuss your latest projects and share tips. That’s what Magee has been doing while the arts program is temporarily suspended.

Normally, she sets up an art table in the lobby of Baptist MD Anderson every Wednesday and Thursday, coming up with themes for the art each month. For example, in February, during American Heart Month, patients made gratitude cards to say thank you to their caregivers or to anyone who has helped them along their cancer journey.

Patients also paint rocks with inspirational messages such as “Hope” or “Just Keep Swimming” that Magee places throughout the Cancer Center’s garden. If a patient likes the message on a particular rock, they can have it. One patient who was going through breast cancer treatment picked up a rock that said “Believe” and held it in her pocket for two weeks. She said it empowered her to keep fighting.

“Art helps these patients feel alive and whole,” Magee said. “It shows them they are not just another medical record number.”

Care to never put off

Why you should stick to your child’s scheduled immunization schedule during COVID.

Over the past few months, life as we knew it has changed dramatically. We are all socially distancing by staying home more, postponing hair appointments, graduations and family gatherings, and telecommuting to work. Masks in public are now the norm, as is staying at least six feet apart. The ultimate purpose of these efforts is to help to keep as many people as possible healthy during the coronavirus pandemic by limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus from person to person.

One unfortunate result of social distancing is that routine well care, especially for young children, is being postponed. Well-child visits during the first two years of life help parents and pediatricians track the child’s growth and neurologic development at an age when they can’t communicate with us. These visits are also an opportunity to vaccinate our youngest patients against certain bacteria and viruses that can make them extremely ill and even be fatal.

When babies are born, they have no natural immunity. By vaccinating them according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines, we are able to protect them from diseases our ancestors feared, just as we currently fear COVID-19. The AAP recommends that well-child care should continue in person, especially during the first 24 months of life when we are vaccinating and building the child’s immunity to easily transmitted diseases.

If we continue postponing vaccination appointments, our country risks the resurgence of pertussis, influenza B, meningitis, polio and more. Recent measles outbreaks in New York and Minnesota have shown us what can happen when even small groups of unimmunized patients come in contact with each other. Herd immunity, which is what we are trying to obtain with COVID-19, will be lost for all of these other diseases if too many children miss their well-child visits.

In order to protect our most vulnerable patients, many primary care offices are restricting in-office visits to well-child visits only, requiring that masks be worn by patients, parents and staff, and allowing only one parent to attend the visit in person. Rooms are now cleaned following newer, stricter infection control practices and are left unused for a longer period of time between patients. Cars have become the new waiting rooms, and you will receive a phone call when it’s your child’s turn to be seen.

As a mother of three, I understand the fear every parent has — that they may be doing the wrong thing for their child by bringing them to the doctor right now for their vaccines. But as a pediatrician, my goal is to advocate for children and provide them with the best medical care based on scientific evidence. I encourage all parents to contact their primary care offices and ask what they recommend, including what COVID-19 safeguards they have implemented. Our ultimate goal as pediatricians (many of whom are parents, too) is to provide safe care for our smallest patients and protecting them from the coronavirus and vaccine-preventable diseases.

Our guest columnist is Bethany Atkins, MD, a board-certified pediatrician with Baptist Pediatrics and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. She studied biomedical engineering before heading into medical school, and today she specializes in immunizations, well-child care, and preventive medicine. She is president of the Northeast Florida Pediatric Society and chair of the Partnership for Child Health and several other boards while also being a recent empty nester.

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