The health benefits of craft
Our thanks to author Helen Manley, health consultant.
Whether you're a knitter, a blacksmith or a textiles artist, hobby crafting is a great way to pass the time and express creativity as well as furnish your life with beautiful and unique objects. But recent studies seem to indicate that arts and crafts can go beyond being a simple 'hobby' and can have very real health benefits – particularly in terms of mental health. Improving mood and cognitive function are just a few of the ways that crafts can improve your wellbeing. Here are some other reasons why you should carry on crafting your way to to a healthier, happier lifestyle.
Improves brain function
Neurological research is constantly looking into the ways that we can take care of our brains, helping to protect them against ageing and some of the associated diseases that go with it such as dementia – a devastating condition thought to affect 35 million people worldwide. Neuroscientists believe that partaking in intellectual activities and learning new skills keeps the brain active, improving cognitive function and increasing the complexity of the brain – in short you are exercising the brain rather than neglecting it and allowing it to become idle. Other activities such as reading, puzzles and cookery can achieve this too, but crafting is thought to be particularly beneficial because you give several areas of the brain a work out – including those responsible for problem solving, concentration and creativity.
The instant gratification nature of the modern world is thought to be one of the leading causes of depression. With the rise of convenience culture we rarely have to wait for anything and our reward systems are distorted because little work has to go into achieving even the most basic things. In this way, areas of the brain become neglected and those chemical imbalances can be thought to cause or worsen depression. While we are concentrating on crafting our brains emit a feel good hormone – dopamine. This promotes a calming, positive sense of wellbeing throughout the body and is a natural mood enhancer. Alongside physical exercise (which releases a similar chemical called serotonin) this sort of brain activity is a good way to naturally improve the symptoms of depression.
Mindfulness meditation techniques are growing in popularity. They encourage us to take a step back from the pressures of the modern world, clear our mind and focus on the moment. The simple things. The feelings of the body. All crafts can be excellent ways to achieve mindfulness as you become focused and concentrated on the activity. This gives you the opportunity to relax and unwind while still taking in the things around you.
Low self esteem is often directly linked to certain mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression. Crafting is a hobby that requires a lot of skill and one which gives you a finished product at the end. Learning this skill and witnessing the results of your labour is a good way to reinforce the reward system in the brain and leading you to experience personal pride. Not only this, but crafting is a popular group activity – knitting groups, card making classes and painting clubs are all ways in which you can meet and engage with like minded people. As humans we crave interaction and belonging to a 'group' is a good way to satisfy that basic human desire. It also gives you a sense of belonging which is another way to boost self esteem and happiness.
Being creative is a great thing. Not only does it sharpen the brain and relax us, it gives us the opportunity to express ourselves and articulate our innermost feelings – the ones we aren't always able to voice. Creative therapy is a way in which troubled people (those suffering from anger issues, addiction or other turmoil) can purge themselves of their negative emotions and connect with their more authentic self. It is an expressive act that allows the individual to take part in new experiences and break their damaging habitual thoughts/patterns. It is thought that painting, drawing and sculpting can be particularly useful in terms of creative/expressive therapy but also extends to things such as poetry, dance and music.
If you’re interested in reading more about these subject, you could try reading the following articles:
CNN, This is your brain on crafting, accessed 25.06.15
MNN, Why crafting is good for mental health, accessed 25.06.15
Psychology Today, Boosting your serotonin levels, accessed 25.06.15
Mindful, Mindfulness: Getting Started, accessed 25.06.15
Psychguides, Anger symptoms, causes and effects, accessed 25.06.15
The Addiction Recovery Guide, Creative arts therapy, accessed 25.06.15
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