How Craft is good for our health
“Craft is good for your health” is a pretty bold claim.
I can hear some of you ask “How can craft possibly be good for our health?” Let me explain…
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the 24/7 demands of the digital world? I know I do. Today, I’d did a coaching call at 5 am then planned to catch up on some computer work before I heading into the studio for some precious creative time. 9 hours later, I’m still catching up on computer work. Nine hours of sitting staring at the screen. My back aches, my eyes are watering, my neck and shoulders are tense, my butt is sore and my fingers are cramped!
Although I’m really tired, I’m itching to get into the studio and create…Some of you might ask “why would you be bothered heading into the studio to create when you’re really tired?” The answer is so simple…
Craft is my stress antidote…
All over the Instagram, Facebook YouTube and Pinterest, you’ll see evidence that papercraft practices, alongside other creative pursuits such as colouring books for grown-ups, as an “antidote” to the stresses and pressures of modern living. (I feel less stressed being around stamps, paper and ink!)
According to the famous psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, crafts that focus on repetitive actions and improving our skills allow us to enter a “flow” state. The flow state is a perfect state of balance between skill and challenge. You might have heard this called “mindfulness.” If Instagram and Pinterest are anything to go by, mindfulness is a much-desired quality for many people. So it’s not surprising crafts such as stamping, knitting, crochet, sewing, ceramics and woodwork are being sought out for their psychological and physical benefits.
Craft as therapy
After World War I & II, the veteran support offered throughout much of the English-speaking world included craft therapy. Craft therapy included knitting, basket weaving, and other craft activities. The purpose was to refocus the soldiers’ brains from pain and negative thoughts. This is known as a diversional therapy. It was also geared towards skills-development to help soldiers re-enter the civilian workforce. So for over a century, arts and craft-based activity have been a core part of occupational therapy in response to the needs of returned soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or “shell shock”. PTSD treatments have advanced significantly, but art and craft therapy is still used as part of the treatment regime. Why? Craft therapy gets results!
The benefits of craft according to science
More and more research is being undertaken to seek to better understand just how craft is so beneficial for the body and mind. Much of the focus has been on the mental health and well-being brought about by knitting. Knitters report lower stress, a sense of accomplishment and increased happiness.
A large-scale international online survey of knitters found respondents reported they gained a wide range of perceived psychological benefits from doing their craft including:
- relief from stress;
- a sense of accomplishment;
- connection to tradition;
- increased happiness;
- reduced anxiety;
- enhanced confidence,
- as well as improved cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration and the ability to think through problems.
Clinical trials introducing knitting to hospital patients suffering anorexia nervosa led to a (self-reported) reduction in the anxious preoccupation with the thoughts and feelings associated with the eating disorder. 74% of trial participants described feeling “distracted” or “distanced” from negative emotions as well as more relaxed and comfortable. Over half said they felt less stressed, had a feeling of accomplishment, and were less likely to act on their “ruminating thoughts”.
In another study, knitting was found to reduce workplace stress and compassion fatigue experienced by oncology nurses.
It’s not just knitting…
Thank goodness these findings aren’t limited to knitting because I’m a terrible knitter!
Quilting has been found to enhance people’s well-being as they move into older age. Research reports that although quilters find the work challenging and cognitively demanding, it helps to maintain or generate new skills. Creating with colour was found to be uplifting, especially in winter. As an avid paper crafter, I can totally relate to how colours impact on my mood. The more cloudy and overcast the day, the more brightly coloured my papercraft creations are.
In studies of people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), depression and other long-term health problems, textile and tactile crafts were found to increase sufferers’ self-esteem, their engagement with the wider world, and increase their sense of well-being and ability to live positively with their condition.
Craft isn’t just for women
While knitting and other textile-based activities tend to be female-dominated, similar benefits have been found for men in the collective woodworking and other creative activities of the Men’s Sheds movement. Men’s sheds recognize that unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and they usually don’t ask for help. They’ve identified that this reluctance may contribute to men:
- having poor health,
- drinking more alcohol than women
- taking more risks and
- suffering more from isolation, loneliness and depression.
Good health is based on many factors including feeling good about yourself, being productive, contributing to your community, connecting with friends and maintaining an active body and mind. The Men’s Shed provides a safe and busy environment where men can find many of these things in an atmosphere of old-fashioned mateship. And, importantly, there is no pressure. Men can just come and have a yarn and a cuppa if that is all they’re looking for.
Gentlemen and blokes are always welcome at my classes too. We talk everyone! Don’t be shy. Personally, I love watching the delight on men’s faces when they use the heat tool and die cutting machine for the first time. Let’s be honest, what man doesn’t like cool tools? Seems a little unfair that us girls get all the fun!
Seeing a man’s sense of achievement and pride as they take home their finished papercraft project is wonderful. It’s a real “that’s going straight to the pool room” moment! (A reference to the Aussie Classic Movie “The Castle”) It’s always a buzz when they ask “can I make more!” (Of course you can!)
Why does craft make us feel good?
Crafters of both sexes reported reduced levels of depression. This doesn’t mean crafters never have depressive episodes but the severity, frequency and duration are reduced.
What unites almost all of these studies, is that while the practice of craft, especially those such as papercraft, knitting, quilting, needlework and woodworking, may at first appear to be solo activities, substantial benefits arise from the social connections craft enables.
The benefits of crafting together have even been reported across whole communities impacted by disaster, such as the recovery following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. A whole new vibrant craft industry emerged as Christchurch residents used craft to help them recover from the horrific natural disaster. There is something about handmade items that make you feel connected!
Craft together or go solo…
One of the strengths of craft is that it can be both solitary and collective. You can choose to go it alone or in a group. It is an individual choice.
For the shy, the ill, or those suffering from anxiety, being able to choose to craft in a group or alone allows control. It also provides the capacity to draw away any uncomfortable focus upon themselves and instead channelling the focus into the process of making, is a much-valued quality of their craft practice. This is incredibly powerful.
Unfortunately, research into the physical and mental health benefits of craft remains largely qualitative and based on self-reporting. While there’s much more research to be done, it’s clear that craft continues to play a key role in enhancing the quality of life of those who craft. There is evidence that craft has the capacity to generate positive health outcomes through positive mental health.
As a crafter, maker and creative coach, I witness the benefits of craft single every day. Many times, people show up at my classes either close to tears, frazzled or just “out of sorts” because they are having a hard day or two and by the time they leave the are a little more relaxed and less overwrought. Most times they haven’t talked about what was going on in their life, the mere fact of being with other people to do something they like (or maybe even love) provides comfort and an escape for an hour or two.
I regularly get messages from my customers saying “I was feeling so bad / overwhelmed /down / cr***y today, so I escaped to my craft space and made a card/ had a card making frenzy. I feel so much better now. Here’s a photo of what I made, what do you think?” These messages make my heart sing with joy.
Now, you know why crafting is good for you, it’s time to try out some creative pursuits.
If you haven’t tried papercraft before and want to find out if it’s right for you, contact me about a complimentary, no obligation, introductory class. I want you to be sure papercraft is the right hobby for you which is why your first class is free. There is nothing worse than investing money in a class only to find that it’s not your thing! I’m certain you’ll love my classes but I want you to be sure.
Perhaps you’re an experienced paper crafter or stamper who like to share your passions with others? If that describes you to a “T”, then talk to me about becoming part of the Inkspiring Creative Crew, my team of crafters who love Stampin’ Up! and share it with others. My post So You want to be Stampin’ Up! demonstrator has lots of information that will help you determine if this is right for you.