For over a century, arts and craft-based activity have been a core part of occupational therapy that emerged as a distinct health field around the end of the first world war in response to the needs of returned soldiers. This includes many suffering from what we now refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder, but then referred to as “shell shock”.
Science Shows Our Brains Need Craft More Than Ever in this digital era and fast-paced society. Arts and crafts such as ceramics, woodwork, metal work, knitting and weaving require repetitive actions and a skill level that can always be improved upon. The intense and focused concentration on the present moment while crafting in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
What is Crafts therapy
Craft therapy is the use of hands-on hobbies and activities to derive mental health benefits.
At a time when many of us feel overwhelmed by the 24/7 demands of the digital world, craft practices, alongside other activities such as the up-surge of interest in cooking from scratch and productive home gardens, are being looked to as something of an antidote to the stresses and pressures of modern living.
Crafting heals us. It doesn’t matter which craft we engage in. As long as we are doing something creative with our hands, we begin to heal our minds.
Craft therapy can be done individually or in groups. anyone can pick up a hands-on hobby and derive mental health benefits from the experience. Therapeutic crafts include fiber arts (such as embroidery and knitting), paper arts (including scrapbooking and origami), wood crafts, building models, and jewelry making (among others).
Benefits of crafting include: It is often found that the crafts practitioners reports that they derived a wide range of perceived psychological benefits from the practice: relaxation; relief from stress; a sense of accomplishment; connection to tradition; increased happiness; reduced anxiety; enhanced confidence, as well as cognitive abilities (improved memory, concentration and ability to think through problems).
1. Crafting Distracts The Mind
Many mental health conditions are characterized by problematic thinking. For example, ruminating thoughts worsen depression. Similarly, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessions, which are unwanted, intrusive thoughts.
Crafting can often provide a focused distraction for the mind. When a person performing an activity and is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity , his/her mind forgets whatever it was obsessing over.
2. It Feels Good to Be Productive
So many mental health issues eat away at our ability to do the things that we want to do. For example, depression can cause fatigue. This, in turn, makes it impossible to complete even simple everyday tasks, let alone to take on bigger endeavors.
The less we do, the less capable we feel. It can seem like we “should” be able to be productive, and we may feel like failures when we don’t accomplish anything. Crafting can be one thing that we do well. As a bonus, our crafts are often functional. For example,
- Quilted blankets keep our family members warm.
- Crocheted dishcloths can be used in kitchen cleaning.
- Wooden frames allow us to hang our photos for display.
- Upcycled crafts make use of items that would otherwise be thrown away.
- Any handcrafted item makes a great personalized gift.
We can set the bar low with a craft that is easy to accomplish. Then, when we complete the craft, we feel the success of finishing a project. Many crafts can even be done in bed and nearly all of them can be completed without leaving the house. This makes crafting doable even for people struggling with basic activities.
3. Crafting Builds Self-Esteem
This goes along with being productive. We feel good when we can do something. It’s magnified by creating items by hand. There is just something magical about putting a few materials together with your own creativity and labor and coming up with a finished project seemingly out of thin air.
There are so many opportunities to feel pride in crafting. For example,
- When we learn a new craft.
- When we learn a new technique in our favorite craft.
- Once we complete a project.
- As we wear or use the items we have made.
Crafting also boosts self-esteem when we share our crafts with others. Friends and family members may compliment our efforts. We can share our work online and see a positive response. Although there are occasionally naysayers out there, the crafting community tends towards kindness and generosity. We want to see one another thrive, and we support each other’s efforts in doing so.
4. Crafting Offers Community
That online community goes a long way towards providing psychological support. If you have never joined a craft community online, then you may be surprised to discover just how much support is out there. More importantly, it goes so far beyond support for crafting.
For example, Sam Bastable shared in an article with Crochet Now that he is part of a Facebook called Crochet Beginners Group that has nearly 100,000 members. The group was started by a woman who “set up the group to share stories and support each other through tough times.” People may join the group to learn how to crochet, but they end up supporting each other through grief, depression, anxiety, and so many more serious issues.
There are groups like this for all different types of crafts. Additionally, there are local craft groups in many communities. These groups meet regularly, and although the purpose is to craft together, there is often a well of support that lies underneath that initial intention.
5. Crafting Stirs the Imagination
Many mental health conditions eat away at our imagination. Depression may be the worst of all. We become incapable of seeing a time when things might be better. Crafting is one way to get the imagination going again.
Crafting gives us the opportunity to engage in different aspects of imagination, including:
- Thinking about a new project
- Making choices, such as the colors to use in a project
- Considering how different choices might change the outcome
- Pondering ways to alter a specific design to suit our needs
- Problem-solving when issues arise
- Finding ways to share or display our finished work
Why does craft make us feel good?
What unites almost all of the observation and analysis, is that while the practice of craft, especially those such as knitting, quilting, needlework and woodworking, may at first appear to be relatively private activities, the benefits also substantially arise from the social connections craft enables.
One of the strengths of craft practice, especially as a contributor to well-being, is precisely that it can be both solitary and collective, and it’s up to the individual to decide.
For the shy, the ill, or those suffering from various forms of social anxiety, this control, as well as the capacity to draw away any uncomfortable focus upon themselves and instead channel this into the process of making, is a much valued quality of their craft practice.
The research into the physical and mental health benefits of craft remains largely qualitative and based on self-reporting. And it especially explores its capacity to generate positive health outcomes through positive mental health. While there’s much more work to be done here, it’s clear craft continues to play a key role in enhancing the quality of life of those who participate in its practices.
Learning how to make simple decisions and imagine in small ways stretches the brain. This helps us begin to see a future again, one that is filled with possibility. This is how crafting heals us.
Has crafting helped you to heal? We would love to hear your stories.
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