Making things and being creative is good for you. It really is. I know this because I like to make things and when I do I feel much better afterwards; more satisfied, calmer, happier.
Obviously the opinion of one random bloke on the internet doesn't amount to much, but you don't have to take just my word for it; there is a lot of research to prove that getting involved in arts and crafts is good for your mental and physical health.
Our goal at CraftCourses is to help as many people as possible access creative activities near them or encourage loved ones with a gift voucher too.
While this might not be news to those of us who already enjoy the health-giving benefits of arts and crafts, there has been an increase in interest from researchers and academics who are exploring how creativity can help us maintain good mental health. Studies show that taking part in creative activities really does have a positive effect on individuals. For example, the easy-to-read 2017 report Creative Health, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing brought together much of this evidence and gives numerous examples of practice which demonstrate the beneficial impact of the arts.
“It is time to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to health and wellbeing. They can help keep us well, aid our recovery and support longer lives better lived.”
In the biggest study of its kind (almost 50,000 people took part), 2018's Great British Creativity Test examined how creative activities can help us manage our mood and make us feel happier. Led by Dr Daisy Fancourt from University College London, the research concluded that even a small amount of creative activity can improve your wellbeing in three main ways:
"Creative activities can help us manage our mood and make us feel happier..."
We all know how to keep our bodies fit and healthy, more or less; eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables (and very few crisps), and do regular physical activity that raises your heartbeat and gets you out of breath. But how do we keep our brains healthy?
This is exactly what neuroscientists are researching, right now. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are around 50 million people worldwide with dementia, with nearly 10 million new cases every year. The general 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 and cookery can have a similar result too, 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.
Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Its causes and treatments are varied and complex; I'm not a psychiatrist so how crafting helps on a neurological and hormonal level is beyond me. What I do understand, however, is that making things and learning new skills probably won't cure depression, but they can certainly help with the symptoms:
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.
Mindfulness is 'the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and conscious of what we’re doing'. Thousands of studies on meditation have been conducted, with the evidence pointing to mindfulness being a great way to alleviate the symptoms of a variety of mental disorders.
All crafts are excellent ways to achieve mindfulness. You automatically become focused and concentrated on the activity, relaxing and unwinding while becoming more aware of what's around you. Crafts such as knitting, crochet, weaving, ceramics, needlework, and woodwork focus on repetitive actions and a skill level that can always be improved upon.
According to the famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi this allows us to enter a 'flow' state, a “perfect immersive state of balance between skill and challenge”.
When our self-esteem is low, we tend to be critical of ourselves and our life and feel negative about everything. We also believe we're less capable to take on the challenges life throws at us. If you have low self-esteem you might hide away from social situations, stop trying new things, and avoid things you find challenging. Living with low self-esteem can harm your mental health, leading to problems like depression and anxiety.
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 outstanding 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.
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 people suffering from anger issues, addiction, or other turmoil can purge themselves of their negative emotions and connect with their more authentic self. It's an expressive act that allows the individual to take part in new experiences and break their damaging thought patterns.
It's thought that painting, drawing and sculpting can be particularly useful in terms of creative and expressive therapy, but other activities such as poetry, dance, and music can be equally effective.
Knit for Peace undertook some research into knitting, showing how it has positive health benefits, physical and mental:
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.
Should craft be available on prescription? The healing power of craft has even informed a radical shift in government policy. “For too long we have been fostering a culture that’s popping pills and Prozac, when what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration,’ said current health secretary Matt Hancock in a speech in November 2018. He argued that;
"Spending money on encouraging us to play music, experience the arts, and make craft can not only improve wellbeing, but also save the NHS money."
This is called ‘social prescribing’; those who suffer from problems such as depression, strokes, dementia, or even social isolation, will be encouraged to become socially involved, to visit museums and galleries, and to engage in hands-on activities, rather than being offered medication or therapy. “I see social prescribing growing in importance, becoming an indispensable tool for GPs, just like a thermometer or a stethoscope,” said Hancock.
As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, all GPs in England will be able to refer patients to community activities and voluntary services by 2024, to improve mental health as never before.
It's important to always be learning something new, improving, reaching for more. Engaging in stimulating crafting activities on a regular basis helps reduce the risk of certain neurological conditions that aren't necessarily an inevitability of advancing age. Alzheimer’s, dementia and other debilitating mental conditions, stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness... the risks increase as you progress through life, but continuously learning new skills can help you to better cope in a world that's forever changing.
Learning is living. And living is learning. Do you agree?