The health benefits of craft

How does it make you feel to be creative and make something? Do you feel calmer, happier, more satisfied? Many of us like to make things for practical reasons (a macrame plant hanger perhaps), or out of necessity (a box to replace the plastic bag where you store old photographs), or simply out of a need for expressing our innate desire to be our authentic selves, a desire for self-expression. Whatever your reason, creativity has been proven to be beneficial. It is good for us to be creative!

There has always been debate around creativity as an innate human trait or nurtured skill but we all have distinct abilities and strengths which form the foundation of our unique creative process. Essentially, creativity is about taking an idea and allowing it take physical form in the world. It’s about imagination. 
Image credit: Daisy Ray, CraftCourses
Creativity is, however, a fickle beast, easily stifled or silenced by a careless comment or insensitive remark, but if allowed and encouraged to blossom, it can be integral to boosting emotional and physical wellbeing. Once we learn to silence our internal (and external) critics, the world is literally our oyster. 
At CraftCourses, we know instinctively that taking part in creative activities feels good because it is what we do! It’s the reason we are here, and our goal is to help as many people as possible experience the same positive benefits. But don’t just take our word for it; there is a wealth of research providing irrefutable evidence that taking part in arts and crafts is good for your mental and physical health.
Image credit: Daisy Ray, CraftCourses
In 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPGAHW) published their findings from two years of research into the health and wellbeing benefits of the arts in Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing.The report states in its summary that “the creative impulse is fundamental to the experience of being human…the act of creation, and our appreciation of it, provides an individual experience that can have positive effects on our physical and mental health and wellbeing.” 
Furthermore, the report recognises that engagement in arts “helps to mitigate the effects of an adverse environment”, - the social determinants of health and wellbeing as defined by The World Health Organisation (WHO) and which include “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” 
Creativity, it could be said, is a very powerful thing and is accessible to all, in one form or another. Never has that been more pertinent than during the Covid19 pandemic. 

Image credit: CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
In July 2020, the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA) published their report, How creativity and culture is supporting shielding and vulnerable people at home during Covid19 which highlighted the breadth of support offered by cultural and creative organisations and individuals to reach the most vulnerable in our communities, providing creative care packages. The report highlighted the importance placed on creativity as a means to offset the negative impacts of challenging, isolating and traumatic situations. 
A December 2020 article published in Frontiers in Psychology (Kapoor & Kaufman): Meaning-Making Through Creativity During COVID-19 concluded that “people across all levels of creative accomplishment and ability have attempted and succeeded at responding to emerging challenges with a wide array of innovation and originality…such creativity is an avenue to make meaning of current happenings. After all, it is second nature for us as a species to enjoy the presence of meaning as well as to seek out meaning in our lives.” An academic read certainly but, nonetheless, a thought-provoking and eminently understandable one. 

The importance of creativity and taking part in creative activities during adverse circumstances where loneliness and isolation are hazardous to emotional health and wellbeing, cannot be overstated. The number of organisations providing online workshops, interactive experiences, remote engagements (phone, email, and post), is startling and humbling. It speaks directly of the important space creativity and connectivity hold in the human psyche. 
Image credit: Annie Spratt
So how exactly is creativity good for us? 

Feeling good and being happier 

The 2018 Great British Creativity Test (examining how creative activities can help us manage our mood and make us feel happier), and the follow up Feel Good Test (providing participants with a Feel Good Formula to reboot their creative habits) shone a light on creativity as being helpful in improving our wellbeing, and highlighting three main benefits: 
1.     Distraction – using creativity to avoid stress, 
2.     Contemplation – using creativity to give us mind space for reassessing problems in our lives and to make plans, and 
3.     Self-development – using creativity to build self-esteem and confidence. 
Image credit: Estée Janssens

Keeping our brains active and healthy 

We all know how to keep our bodies fit and healthy, more or less: eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables (and very few crisps) and partake in regular physical activity that raises your heart rate and gets you slightly out of breath. But how do we keep our brains healthy? 
According to WHO, there are around 55 million people worldwide with dementia and nearly 10 million new cases every year. The consensus amongst these experts is that doing something intellectual such as a craft activity or learning a new skill keeps the brain active, improving how the brain works (cognitive function); you're basically giving your brain a workout rather than letting it become lazy. Other activities such as reading, puzzles (the huge success of Sudoku a case in point) and cookery can have a similar result, but crafting is thought to be particularly beneficial because you're exercising several areas of the brain, including those responsible for problem solving, concentration, and creativity.
Image credit: Milad Fakurian

Improving the symptoms of depression 

Globally, there are as many as 300 million people of all ages suffering from depression. Its causes and treatments are varied and complex and how crafting helps on a neurological and hormonal level is a matter for the scientists, not for this author to explain. What is widely understood, however, is that making things and learning new skills is unlikely to cure depression, but they can certainly help with the symptoms: 

Crafting is another way to express yourself

If you're battling with internal demons and you simply can't find the words to describe the pain you're in, maybe using your hands to draw, paint, sculpt, knit, bake, design... will say what your words can't.
Taking a break from the negative thoughts

For a while, whilst you're concentrating on what you're doing, the outside world fades away and there is just you, your tools, and your work. All those spiralling obsessive thoughts, the negative ruts you thought you'd never emerge from, they're replaced with positive focus.
Being creative

Choose a craft you're familiar with or try something completely new, it's up to you – either way, the mere act of creating will help you feel a bit more like your old self.

Depression can beat you into feeling like a failure. Being creative shows you that this is a cruel lie; you're full of amazing ideas and turning them into something real and tangible is a very healthy, positive thing to do.
Image credit: Ante Hamersmit

Enjoy the moment, be in the now

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” (
Mindfulness. It seems pretty straight forward and suggests that the mind is fully attending to what’s happening, to what you’re doing, to the space you’re moving through. Unfortunately, our minds have a habit of taking us on a meander away from the matter at hand, taking flight and disconnecting us from our bodies. Without realising it we’re mired in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or fretting about the future and that makes us anxious.
Crafting in any form, is an excellent way to achieve mindfulness. Your focus is fully concentrated on the activity, you relax and unwind while developing awareness of your surroundings. Crafts such as knitting, crochet, weaving, ceramics, needlework, and woodwork focus on repetitive actions and skills that are eminently improvable, in fact your desire to improve and hone your skills is one of the factors that will keep you coming back to the craft, perpetuating the positive outcomes.
Eminent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies this phenomenon as a ‘flow state’ where a “perfect immersive state of balance between skill and challenge” is achieved. He describes 8 characteristics of flow:
  1. Complete concentration on the task.
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback.
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down).
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding.
  5. Effortlessness and ease.
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills.
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination.
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task.

None of these characteristics could be seen in a negative light and all suggest that the positive effects of mindfulness are achievable, realistic, and worthy of our attention.
Image credit: Kazuend

Boost your self-esteem

When our self-esteem is low, we have a tendency to be critical of ourselves and our lives, and believe ourselves to be less capable than we actually are. We may feel unable to take on life’s challenges, feel a need to hide from social scenarios and avoid situations we perceive as difficult. Low self-esteem can harm our mental health and lead to problems such as anxiety and/or depression.
One of the ways the NHS recommends improving your self-esteem is to give yourself a challenge; to try something new. Creative activities such as arts and crafts provide an opportunity to bolster your self-esteem. Completing an entire task from start to finish gives you a great sense of accomplishment. Arts and crafts classes are also a fantastic environment for meeting and interacting with new people. It can be difficult for some to venture beyond their comfort zones, but the sense of belonging you get when you work with new friends on interesting new projects can provide a great boost to your self-esteem and happiness.
Image credit: SwapnIl Dwivedi

Creative therapy

Finding clarity in your thoughts can often be difficult using words alone but being creative can help you to communicate your inner experience and what you’re feeling in other ways. It can help an individual to access and navigate their own thoughts and feelings and discover a sense of self, which can often be lost when struggling with mental health.

Painting, drawing, and sculpting are thought to be particularly useful in terms of creative and expressive therapy. Non-verbal expression, however, is not limited to art and craft; other activities such as poetry, dance and music can be equally effective.
Being creative not only sharpens the brain and relaxes us, but it also gives us opportunities to express ourselves and articulate our innermost feelings, the ones we aren’t always able to voice.
Image credit: Nick Karvounis

Knitting! It’s a secret weapon!!

Think back to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and our own Tom Daley finally achieving an Olympic gold medal with diving partner Matty Lee. Tom’s struggles with his mental health have been well-documented after years of pressure from relentless competition, media attention after announcing his relationship with now husband and American screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, the tragic loss of his father from a brain tumour and becoming a father to Robbie.

In Tokyo, Tom revealed that his hobby of knitting played an important role in his mental health: “There are loads of things I’m doing to keep myself going, like yoga and visualisation, but I’ve also taken up knitting, which could be my secret weapon…It’s part of my mindfulness routine, a way of escaping from everything for a while.” He was often seen poolside working on his Team GB cardigan and has since gone on to encourage others to take up knitting as a way to improve your mental health.
Image credit: Google images
Knit for Peace, an initiative of the Charities Advisory Trust published their findings from extensive research into the health benefits of knitting, demonstrating its positive health benefits, both physical and mental:
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces depression and anxiety
  • Slows the onset of dementia
  • Is as relaxing as yoga
  • Distracts from chronic pain
  • Increases sense of wellbeing
  • Reduces loneliness and isolation
  • Increases a sense of usefulness and inclusion in society.
Image credit: Tanaphong Toochinda
If knitting's not your thing, don't worry - choose any crafting activity and enjoy similar benefits. And while knitting and other textile-based activities tend to be female-dominated, similar benefits have been found for men in woodworking, repair, and other productive tinkering activities.

Craft on prescription

Should craft be available on prescription? ‘Social prescribing’, the prescription of physical or creative activity to improve health and wellbeing, is seen as increasingly important, an indispensable tool for GPs, and a way to ultimately save the NHS money. In his November 2018 speech ‘The power of the arts and social activities to improve the nation’s health’, former health secretary Matt Hancock recognised the need to move away from a culture of “popping pills and Prozac, when what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration.”
Social prescribing – sometimes referred to as community referral - is recognised as beneficial to our physical and mental wellbeing and is part of the NHS Long Term Plan. Its core principles are that it:
  • is a holistic approach focussing on individual need
  • promotes health and wellbeing and reduces health inequalities in a community setting, using non-clinical methods
  • addresses barriers to engagement and enables people to play an active part in their care
  • utilises and builds on the local community assets in developing and delivering the service or activity
  • aims to increase people’s control over their health and lives.
Social prescribing in England is expected to facilitate access to social prescribing schemes for over 900,000 people via more than 1,000 link workers by the end of 2024. Similar schemes are also available in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland after extensive research by their devolved governments.
Image credit: Annie Spratt

Learning is life; don't ever stop

It's important to always be learning something new, improving skills, searching and reaching for more experiences. Learning gives you a sense of purpose in your life and opens new possibilities for a different future, providing a sense of accomplishment and achievement.
Our risks for debilitating neurological conditions such as Alzheimers and dementia increase with advancing age and other mental health conditions including stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness can be associated with age, social status, and many other social determinants of health. Engaging in stimulating crafting activities on a regular basis, especially when they are undertaken in the company of others, helps to mitigate and can even reduce these risks.
Community schemes, social prescribing, and other ways to access these activities ensure that economic status is not a barrier to engaging in craft. The benefits are there for all to enjoy in a forever changing and increasingly challenging world.
Image credit: Jadson Thomas

Learning is living. And living is learning. Do you agree?

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