How practicing a craft can be good for your mental health
By: Erich Otten, Arts & Culture Editor
There are so many delicious things about knitting, sewing, embroidery, jam-making, cooking and baking. Not only are these activities palatable, warm, and enjoyable, engaging in a craft either as an artisan or as a hobby may also be good for your mood. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a positive psychologist credited for recognizing and researching a mental state he called “flow”. In this state sometimes referred to as being “in the zone” or “centred” allows people to be fully involved and present in the moment or activity they find themselves in. Another word for this concept is mindfulness, a Buddhist practice in which a person intentionally reorients their self into the current moment.
The American Psychological Association has published many accounts and peer-reviewed studies on how mindfulness can benefit your mental health and overall emotional health. Some of these benefits include reduced stressed, decreased emotional reactivity, increased working memory, increased focus, greater cognitive flexibility and relationship satisfaction.
Crafting comes into play because it is the intentional act of coming into the moment to create something. Whether you are a potter, a knitter, a spinner, or a weaver, crafting intentionally brings you into a flow state. Hand knitting, weaving and basket making has long been used in occupational therapy for physical and mental health rehabilitation. This practice became prominent after World War II for rehabilitating returning soldiers and veterans.
Crafting was historically used as diversional therapy to treat “shell shock” (now referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder) and was used to develop skills to return veterans to the workforce. Knit for Peace, a project directed by the UK-based Creative Hertfordshire, reports some of the long-term contemporary health benefits of knitting as lowered blood pressure, reduced depression and anxiety, distraction from chronic pain, increased sense of personal wellbeing, as well as a reduced sense of loneliness and isolation.
Jill Riley, lead investigator on a project titled The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood, conducted an international survey on knitting and the mental health benefits it provides crafters. They found that “…knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to well-being and quality of life. As a skilled and creative occupation, it has therapeutic potential — an area requiring further research.”
In their article, Riley speaks about how knitting, and other forms of crafting, can be practiced among people or solitarily, meaning knitters have the choice of joining a knitting or crafting circle which provides social inclusion, kinship, and friends.
Frances Reynolds conducted a study investigating loneliness, published by Arts in Psychotherapy, and found that “…most women described the experience of intense concentration in the task as providing a distraction from worry and relief from depressive thoughts. The adaptability of the occupation to suit time available, mood and other factors facilitated a sense of empowerment or control. Creative arts activities could also challenge depression from enabling social contacts”.
Why does crafting boost our mood? Well, Claire Wellesley-Smith, author of Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art, says it has to do with slowing ourselves down and allowing us time away from screens and technology: “…technology makes us impatient and impatience is the opposite to mindfulness.” Not only does crafting provide us time away from social media and Netflix, but it also triggers the aforementioned flow state.
Maybe this is where the benefits of craft culture come from? Not only are we utilizing all the senses we have available to our bodies, but we are also utilizing our hands to mindfully set aside our worries, anxious and/or depressive thought-formations, and mindfully engage in the practice of creating. As Wellesley-Smith states in their book: “It’s that tactile and physical nature of craft, keeping the mind and senses fully occupied.”
Want to see if crafting will benefit you? Keep an eye out for Feminist Yarns, a bi-monthly event held by the Gender Equity Centre on the Thunder Bay Campus.