So, when it comes to crafts, you’re not exactly Martha Stewart. But we have good news: you don’t have to be! You can still get the mental health benefits. Research suggests that crafting is more than a means of expressing yourself and passing the time. It can help you cope with stress and anxiety, as well as improve mood, cognitive function, and coordination.
And it doesn’t depend on complexity. Even simple crafts can help you focus on something else when you feel overwhelmed, which will signal to your brain that everything is ok. When you become completely focused on a simple activity you enjoy, such as crafting, you enter a state of “flow.” This makes you temporarily forget everything that’s going on except for the present moment – an effect similar to what meditation does.
These days, so many of us feel overwhelmed with stress because, for thousands of years, our brains only had to react to immediate threats like being attacked by an animal. Now we use the same mechanism to react to a job presentation that’s scheduled in three weeks. Our bodies remain in a constant state of tension, and we need something to settle our “fight or flight” response.
Art and Mental Health
Engaging with art is linked to the production of dopamine, which promotes cognitive flexibility and lowers our risk of dementia. This could mean visiting a museum or painting, but it can also mean taking the time to find the perfect cheap ribbons for your next project.
A lot more people engage with crafts like knitting, crocheting, and embroidery than painting and music, but they still enter a state of flow, and they still enjoy the benefits of using their creativity.
Doing something creative every day has been shown to increase life satisfaction and self-awareness, help you develop a more positive outlook, and become more open to new possibilities. Being able to create something gives a sense of self-efficacy, which makes us better able to cope with difficulties in our lives.
When occupational therapyemerged in the late 1800s, patients were given craft courses to help reduce anxiety and other ailments. For example, during the First World War, soldiers would use basketry to cope. This strategy is still popular today, and organizations that help veterans with PTSD offer pottery classes.
Baking, knitting, and gardening, despite their apparent differences, all have qualities that make them beneficial for mental health. The repetitive movements, multi-sensory stimulation, effort, and anticipation of reward trigger neurotransmitters that lower stress levels and promote relaxation and well-being.
When you’re doing something you enjoy, the reward center in your brain detects it and releases dopamine. Scientists believe that the purpose of dopamine is to encourage us to engage in activities that are beneficial to our species, like eating, interacting with each other, and reproducing.
But this mechanism isn’t limited to only these activities. We also release dopamine when we listen to music we like, visit a museum, or make our own art.
In addition to engaging all of our senses, crafting can help us in cultivating mindfulness, which benefits our mental health by activating areas of the cortex associated with emotion regulation.
There are many crafts clubs emerging that are specifically designed for people who struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression. They offer the mental health benefits we mentioned above, as well as the social aspect involving support and positive connections.
People who struggle with mental health challenges often tend to isolate themselves. Having a place where they can do something relaxing that they enjoy surrounded by people who understand them can give them a sense of belonging and help them regain a sense of purpose.
Researchers are currently looking into the cognitive benefits of crafting. Activities like basketwork have been shown to help re-establish neural pathways and increase brain plasticity, which can be very useful for people recovering from a stroke.
The cognitive benefits are also being evaluated for people with dementia. Studies suggest that crafts, particularly when coupled with community engagement, can reduce the risk of developing dementia. In patients who already have dementia, crafting has been shown to trigger memories.
Crafting is particularly remarkable in that it engages many different parts of the brain. It can help you improve your memory and attention span while also engaging your visuospatial processing and problem-solving skills.
Scientists are starting to look into the effects of leisure activities on the brain. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry in 2011, engaging in activities such as playing games, reading, and crafting can reduce your risk of developing mild cognitive impairment by up to 50%.
Improve Sleep Quality
Since crafting can be a very relaxing activity with effects similar to meditation, it can also benefit people with insomnia, especially those who have trouble falling asleep.
Doing something repetitive like knitting or crocheting can be very soothing and get your body to unwind and your mind to let go of the worries keeping you up. If you turn this into a bedtime ritual, it will signal your brain that it’s time to go to sleep, which will trigger the release of other chemicals like the hormone melatonin, helping you relax and get ready for some much-needed sleep.
There are also studies on the effects of craft programs on patients with sleep problems with very promising results.
We most often associate grief with losing a loved one, but people experience grief whenever they lose something that’s very important to them, so it can be triggered by other events like failing to get into the college of your dreams, losing a job, or going through a divorce.
Grief often makes us feel like we’ll never be happy again because it can drastically alter our perspective of the world. You think of a life and a future you had imagined for yourself, but this event that triggered your grief has made it no longer possible. So you’re not just mourning one loss. You’re mourning a thousand losses you keep playing in your mind.
And although what you are experiencing is part of the human condition, you feel like nobody can understand you.
In times like this, an activity like crafting can distract you from negative feelings like anger, guilt, and sadness. Creating something gradually shifts your mindset into one of growth where you start to see ways in which you could create a new life for yourself.
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