As you may or may not know, today is World Mental Health Day. It’s a day that is quite close to my heart and indeed my brain, because (as I may have mentioned once or twice) I have several mental health conditions. Or, as my husband so sweetly puts it, I’m ‘batshit cray’… He also started referring to me as a ‘bipolar bear’ after he bought me a fluffy dressing gown for Christmas. I guess I can sort of see his point:
Anyway, since it’s the Day of Cray™, I’ve compiled 5 reasons crafting is so good for your mental health (in general and as a tool for managing mental illness). Some are backed up by science, some are my own personal experience, and obviously none of them are actual medical advice because I’m not a qualified doctor (go see your therapists, kids).
I’m also not saying any of this is a substitute for some combination of meds/talking therapy/however else you want to deal with your shit. This is not a ‘have you tried yoga?’, ‘just eat more vegetables’, ‘have you tried just thinking positively?’ scenario, don’t worry. It’s just one tiny, crazy human’s point of view, ok?
5 reasons crafting is good for your mental health:
1) Sense of achievement
When your mental health is bad, it can feel like you’re going nowhere/doing nothing/a terrible and useless human/etc. Craft projects let you physically make something yourself – there’s no refuting that achievement, even if your brain is determined to tell you you’re a worthless turdbasket – the evidence is right there in front of you.
From distracting yourself from destructive urges/habits to breaking the monotony of lying on your sofa for a solid week unable to go to work, craft projects have the potential to break through the mental mist in a fairly unique way. More interesting than household chores and requiring less mental input than reading, they provide a diversion that’s fun and (at least nominally) practical. Hard to beat, imho.
3) Doing something nice for others
I find a lot of my craft projects end up as presents for other people, because I can’t really justify making more clutter (aka The Goblin’s nemesis) for myself. Making something for somebody else gives you the double whammy of having achieved something and done something nice for someone you care about. Win-win.
4) All the dopamine
Apparently when we’re knitting or sewing, our brains release the happy-hormone dopamine. Crafting makes us chemically happy, and those of us with mental illnesses will take all the chemical happiness we can get! Even if your brain is chemically sound, a bit of extra dopamine goes a long way, so get your needles out and give it a go.
5) Repetition, repetition
Something almost all crafts, from cross-stitch to print-making, share is an element of repetition. It both occupies and empties the mind. A lot of people compare knitting to meditation, but I was never super good at that, so I wouldn’t know. I’ll take their word for it…
So, I know I said it wasn’t going to be medical advice, but I never said I wasn’t going to spout general human advice… I know some (or many) people reading this are going to go ‘hurr durr that’s all very well but how do I actually use crafts as a coping tool? Crafts can’t improve mental illness you idiot’.
I mean, see above for that whole disclaimer, but I am going to share some ways I’ve found of incorporating my crafty hobbies into my mental-illness-management regime.
1) Have lots of VARIED projects going at once
At any given time I have at least 3 projects going. Between work, the business, and the wedding, I’ve currently ended up with 7 (hover for descriptions if you’re interested!). Because people know I like to make things, I also tend to get little kits as presents from time to time, which is great because I can stockpile them so that if all else fails and I don’t want to do any of my current projects, I can just start a new one!
As you can see, I also have a range of projects – easy ones for when I just need something to do, harder ones for when I need to immerse myself in something. And they’re different types of crafts, because sometimes you just don’t feel like doing a pre-designed cross-stitch kit… *
I don’t finish them quickly, but that’s ok, and that leads us to point 2…
2) Set small goals
For the love of your sanity, do not go into a craft session expecting yourself to finish the whole thing. Some projects are short ones you can blitz in a few hours, but the majority won’t be, and expecting yourself to churn out piece after piece can cause more stress than it alleviates! I try and set smaller, numerical goals (number of rows knitted, finishing one section of a project, etc.) so I still feel I’ve achieved something when I put down my needle/pen/pliers. Of course, sometimes you’re just not in the right place to craft, so it’s important to remember you can always…
3) Allow yourself to give up and do something else if it’s not working
Sounds simple, but your craft project should not become another stick for you to beat yourself with. When you’re anxious/self-critical/low, it’s hard to get out of that mindset, but the last thing you want is for your creative escape to become a chore or a source of stress. If it’s going badly or you’re just not feeling it, give yourself permission to do something else.
So there we have it: reasons why crafting is good for your mental health and ways you can use crafty hobbies as a crazy-management tool. Bit of a long post today, but what can I say – I really believe in the healing power of faffing about with bits of thread!
*By the way, I was going to tidy my projects up and make them look Pinterest-ready, but in the spirit of honesty – and laziness – I decided to show them as they usually are: tangled, chaotic, and stuffed into a too-small craft drawer!