by Lauren Johnson
There’s something inherently satisfying about creating with one’s own hands. Whether growing vegetables in a garden or baking a tray of muffins from scratch, being able to create helps us connect with our creative abilities as well as with ourselves. Studies have shown that adults that participate in crafts such as knitting, sculpting, painting or sewing experience therapeutic benefits that can greatly benefit their physical, mental and social well-being.
Perhaps one of the more traditional forms of crafting is knitting, and with the recent DIY revival, it’s not uncommon to spot a knitting group at a local coffee shop or library. Aside from the wonderful benefit of social connection within these groups, knitting on its own is great for individual wellness. Not only can knitters challenge themselves physically and mentally by trying their hand at complex patterns or styles, studies have shown that knitting can also greatly benefit hand-eye coordination and memory, as well as help maintain focus—which can be a welcome distraction for those suffering from anxiety and stress, as the rhythmic sound and motion can have a calming effect.
Whether molding something from imagination or sitting behind a potter’s wheel, playing with clay is a soothing way to release stress and explore creativity. Working with a formless mound of malleable clay to turn it into something entirely of one’s own creation can sound like a basic task, and perhaps that’s why it’s so fulfilling—there are no rules, lines or patterns to follow. Combine that lack of restriction with a medium that’s entirely forgiving, and working with clay can feel quite freeing. From a more physically therapeutic perspective, the fingertips are among the areas of the body where nerve endings are most dense, making them a potent source of connection to our environment. Some say that working with clay also helps massage and stimulate pressure points that can help relieve stress. Moving clay with the hands, wrists and arms also benefits joints, circulation and dexterity, making it beneficial for those prone to arthritis.
Enabling expression through an art form like painting can help encourage emotional problem solving. In fact, painting has often been used in art therapy as a way to cope with trauma, stress or even shyness, as it offers a nonverbal way to communicate thoughts and feelings. Art therapy is a growing mental health profession in which certified art therapists show clients how to use art and creative processes to discover their feelings, to explore and resolve emotional conflict, manage behavior and addictions, promote self-awareness and more. According to the American Art Therapy Association, “Art therapy provides an alternative means of communicating for those who cannot find the words to express anxiety, pain or emotions as a result of trauma, combat, physical abuse, loss of brain function, depression, and other debilitating health conditions.” Painting also helps strengthen the mind by encouraging the observation of details, color and light, which can help improve memory as well as eyesight.
Aside from the practicality of replacing a lost button or mending a broken hem, sewing is a simple way to relax and quiet the mind. The action is uncomplicated, and completing a sewing project can be a great way to boost self-esteem, especially when quilting by hand. Sewing is also wonderful for concentration, primarily because a sharp reminder awaits if the mind begins to wander. Like focusing on breath in meditation, honing in on a single task can be quite introspective and have gratifying results like feeling more relaxed, present and positive.
By following our creative intrigue, it’s possible to discover that a handmade craft can have a deeper, more therapeutic impact on our lives than we originally expected.