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How Getting Crafty Can Improve Your Well-Being

By Martha Michael

National Crafting Month

What happens on the job certainly affects your mental health, but decisions you make when you’re out of the office have just as much bearing on your well-being. Picking up a paintbrush or updating your scrapbooks can help you feel better about yourself and improve your mental health. Let National Crafting Month in March be a reminder to get involved in whichever form of crafting you enjoy most and soak in the benefits that come with it.

Benefits of Crafting

Most people have a limited view of what qualifies as an arts or crafts activity, but there are countless ways to spend your free time in a creative way. DIY projects can stimulate your imagination, but they can also turn a bad day into something productive and rewarding. Being creative has been known to decrease the discomfort associated with negative emotions such as anxiety and mood swings.

An article by Healthline says that participating in crafts can have benefits such as:

  • Reducing stress
  • Improving social opportunities
  • Successful aging
  • Calming your emotions
  • Social/cultural engagement

Creative or not, nearly any sideline can qualify as a health-inducing hobby because they focus your attention on executing something with a lasting presence. Some craft ideas are fully engaging and beneficial including:

Gardening - At the top of many experts’ list of healthiest hobbies, gardening has the side benefit of providing fresh fruits and vegetables, so your diet gets a boost while your mind is eased.

Clay/pottery - In addition to the general benefits of creative expression, clay is used in art therapy for its ability to improve mood. According to research reported by the American Art Therapy Association, studies show that patients using clay during therapy have reduced levels of depression and greater stability for mood swings.

Sewing/needlework - While a standard hobby such as sports that gives you pleasure but merely fills time can be beneficial, crafting also involves creating something useful or beautiful that lasts.

Quilting - Similar to sewing or needlework, quilters make visual masterpieces, but they also provide a healthy dose of social interaction as many people complete them in groups such as quilting circles.

Drawing/doodling - If you tend to be introverted, artwork can be just what the doctor ordered. Many artists gain a lasting sense of calm by incorporating their craft into a daily routine.

Crafting and Your Mind

Many of the activities people participate in have an effect on the brain, according to CNN. Type A individuals tend to work hard and play hard, and they’re less likely to engage in a quiet crafts activity, for instance.

Crafting involves many parts of your brain. While your memory is fortified, you’re also improving your problem-solving skills and visuospatial processing. If you read books, do some form of crafting, or play games, you can reduce your chance of developing cognitive impairment by 30-59 percent.

“There’s promising evidence coming out to support what a lot of crafters have known anecdotally for quite some time,” says Catherine Carey Levisay, a clinical neuropsychologist and wife of CEO John Levisay. “And that’s that creating -- whether it be through art, music, cooking, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography (or) cake decorating -- is beneficial to us in a number of important ways.”

The relaxation and calm that comes from hobbies and other creative ventures is a Zen-like experience. Knitting or other handiwork can create some of the same benefits as meditation or “flow,” a state in which you’re absorbed by the activity. The amount of information a human can pay attention to is limited, so when you’re involved in a creative activity you aren’t focusing on pain, fatigue, or emotional distress. When you’re doing woodwork or lost in a puzzle, it gives you relief from the “fight or flight” response.

Gaining a state of flow through the repetitive motion of crafting is a natural form of relaxation. While many Americans are treated for emotional suffering through medical means such as antidepressants, you can reduce some of those symptoms organically by reaping the benefits of creative engagement.

The highlight of one person’s day is someone else’s nightmare, so you need to figure out the kinds of crafty projects that have the most positive effect on you. The sky’s the limit -- from interior decorating to making jewelry, you can look up nearly every known craftsy group and jump in. The next time you have some PTO, try something new. Find a pottery studio, an art class, or set your out-of-office reply to “gone fishing” … and actually do it.

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