Today, let’s consider the benefits of crafting on our mental health, which is the area I am most familiar with. So, I will speak mostly from personal experience on this one.
As many of you know, I battled depression for most of my life. One of the ways I knew my mental health was declining was that I had difficulty concentrating. I found my focus and memory suffered terribly. I loved reading but couldn’t focus long enough to read a page. I enjoyed cross stitch but couldn’t sit down long enough to figure out where I had left off – let alone complete any stitches. And being unable to do these things I enjoyed only exasperated my frustration and made me spiral even further down.
Then, I decided to switch my attention to things where I could still be creative but didn’t need to sit still for long periods of time. I also started having the TV or a podcast on in the background so that my focus was allowed to shift. In other words, I reframed my expectations to be more realistic.
I signed up for my first ever 100-day project and started creating hand-lettered quotes. I painted backgrounds and then played with calligraphy to hand letter quotes onto them (you can read more about it here). This meant is that I could break down the project into smaller steps that did not require a lot of concentration at any one time – and could do what felt possible on any given day. Some days I would paint paper to create backgrounds. On another day, I could just cut the paper to the right size. Other days I would letter a quote onto it already painted and cut background.
It didn’t feel as hard – because I was allowing myself to take micro-steps and to work with how I was feeling on any given day. Yet, over time, I started noticing that it did impact my mood – and over time my ability to focus for longer periods of time. In addition, as time went on, my skill level also increased.
I also came to recognize that crafting can have a meditative effect. When I was at my lowest, meditation just did not happen for me. I had heard and read all the benefits of meditation (my Mum is a mediation facilitator, after all!) but the idea of sitting down in stillness for even a few minutes was overwhelming. But sitting down with a brush or pen in my hand and concentrating on the task at hand allowed me to be still. To me, one aspect of meditation is that you focus on what you are doing with so much intensity that what is happening around fades away. You may hear noises around you – but you don’t get distracted by them. I’m sure you’ve all experienced this at some time – when reading a really good book or watching a movie, perhaps? You can experience the same when participating in any hobby you enjoy.
Another benefit of crafting is that you are prioritizing time for yourself. We have all heard the expression “you can’t pour from an empty cup” but I’ve often struggled with this. Making time for myself seems selfish. In fact, most of the crafts I have made have been gifts for people in my life – so that it feels a little more altruistic (something I didn’t realize until quite recently when I stared looking inwards). I have made so many things, but when I look around my apartment, almost nothing is made by me. Yet, despite this, I recognize that I gleaned some benefits from the act of making those things. I allowed myself the time to do something that made me feel good. And, to be honest, the feeling I got from seeing the joy on the gift recipient’s face.
However, it’s not just my personal experience that tells me that crafting can have a positive impact on our mental health. In a 2013 survey (published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy) of over 3,500 knitters, the respondents reported a high correlation between participating in their hobby and feeling calm and happy. In addition, since knitting can sometimes be a social activity (think knitting circles), it also influenced the feeling of community and communication with others – which have also been shown to improve mental health.