Is “crafting” good for mental health?
According to authors of various scientific research papers and “crafters”, the answer is yes.
“Crafting” has been at the heart of many people’s lives since time immemorial. Crafting used to be a way for people to earn a living (think of the weavers, embroiderers, furniture makers and other craftspeople over the centuries). Now, learning some kind of craft regularly appears in “Top 10” lists of hobbies undertaken by people in their spare time.
I (Erica, one half of Hamilton & Hodson) am particularly interested in this subject; from a crafter’s perspective, but also because I struggle from time to time with mental health issues. When I am feeling fragile and don’t want to face the world, coming to the workshop and absorbing myself in upholstery is the only thing that can get me through the day. Crafting is a very mindful activity, as Katrina Norris, a mental health practitioner, says:
“Crafting creates a situation very similar to that of meditation. When engaged in a craft, you are focusing on the here and now. In those moments, time stands still”.
Katrina Norris, Springville Counselling Centre, New York, USA
Your mind takes you somewhere else when concentrating on constructing something. And, according to Norris, crafting stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in your brain that allows you to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation.
What does the science tell us?
Whilst researching this blog post, I stumbled across a fascinating article titled “Health Benefits of Crafting”, on the Paris Corporation website (read the whole article; it’s very thought-provoking). The article referenced Dr. Daisy Fancourt’s research study at the University College of London – COVID-19 Social Study. The study examined the psychological and social consequences of the pandemic across the UK population. The report stated that 24% of the 72,000 adults involved in the study spent 30 minutes or more each day during the pandemic on active arts participation (reading, listening to music, or engaged in a creative hobby). These participants reported lower rates of depression and anxiety, and a greater sense of life satisfaction. Having a sense of community and building friendships was also mentioned frequently by participants.
Dr Fancourt’s study also clearly demonstrated that engaging with the visual arts can reduce reported anxiety, and that visiting museums can protect against the development of dementia (sadly, a disease my own family and a close friend have experience of):
“Cultural activities encourage gentle movement, reduce social isolation, and lower inflammation and stress hormones such as cortisol. The arts are linked with dopamine release, which encourages cognitive flexibility, and they reduce our risk of dementia.”
Dr. Daisy Fancourt, University College of London – COVID-19 Social Study.
What craft should I try?
Even if you feel sceptical about the supposed benefits of crafting, I say it’s worth a try. There are numerous courses on offer everywhere, ranging from taster sessions of a couple of hours through to term-long courses. If you’re not sure what would suit you, try a taster. I am a self-confessed serial hobbyist and have always found immense pleasure in creating objects and art (the results have been mixed over the years…). As somewhat of an interior design fanatic, my approach to trying a new craft has been to ask the question: what would I like to make for my home that I either can’t afford to buy or doesn’t actually exist?
In writing this blog post, I wanted to convey how important and fundamental the act of creating anything (a painting, a vase, a cake, a model aeroplane) is to many people’s lives, including my own. And don’t forget (shameless self-promotion coming up…!), Hamilton & Hodson run creative upholstery and traditional lampshade making courses where we’ve turned out some very happy and contented students. So, start your “crafting” journey here…and now!
Three online course portals:
A UK-wide online portal listing thousands of creative workshops taught by professional artists and craftspeople.
Very similar to the above website but has a world-wide reach.
An online portal listing hundreds of in-person and live online courses in the Bristol and Bath areas.
Dr. Heather L. Stuckey & Dr. Jeremy Nobel; National Library of Medicine.
Three Instagram accounts to follow:
Simple but beautiful drawings about feeling good and being kind to yourself.
A community organisation featuring artists living with mental illness and who are campaigning for mental health awareness and fighting the stigma of mental health.
A fellow upholsterer who not only creates stunningly beautiful upholstered furniture but is very open and honest about his struggle to maintain good mental health.