When the national state of emergency in light of the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic was declared in mid-March, the entire future suddenly felt uncertain and out of control. In many ways, that was anxiety-provoking. For a period of time following, finding healthy ways to exert control seemed equal parts necessary and difficult to me, but by the start of April, I had decided to lean into my inner-DIYer to use crafting as a strategy to boost my mental health during quarantine.
It turns out that the act of creating using a process we enjoy can make us feel good on a chemical level. Enjoyable activities can appeal to a positive mood and lowered stress, which is connected to boosting the neurotransmitters serotonin, and these activities also trigger the neurotransmitter dopamine, the neurotransmitter tied to our inner reward system, says clinical psychologist Carla Manly, PhD. “By doing something that feels good, we’re bathing our brain in feel-good chemicals, and it’s helping to melt away stress,” she adds.
I, for one, have always found creating with my hands to not only feel good but to also make me feel powerful. Whether through cooking, gardening, or, yep, crafting, having a sense of power is helpful when so many aspects of reality evade control. So I decided to make mini tapestry, and I instantly felt more at peace even from just selecting the yarn colors and pattern. When the box of yarn and a loom arrived at my doorstep days later, I was ready to get my hands to work. And it turns out that doing so offers specific gains to my mental health, beyond jus having a finished project to display with pride.
Below, learn 3 noteworthy connections between crafting and mental health that’ll make you want to create in quarantine.
1. Crafting is distracting
First, crafting with your hands demands your attention, which means you can’t be otherwise engaged. And in a time when news is upsetting and the future looks bleak, this type of engrossing distraction can be quite a reprieve.
“When we are engaged in a focused activity, it takes our mind off anxious thoughts, distressing thoughts, depressive thoughts, thoughts of the past, and thoughts of the future. It takes our focus to the here and now.” —Carla Manly, PhD
“When we are engaged in a focused activity, it takes our mind off anxious thoughts, distressing thoughts, depressive thoughts, thoughts of the past, and thoughts of the future. It takes our focus to the here and now,” says Dr. Manly. And if you’re trying your hand a craft that you’ve never attempted, that effect can be more intense because more of your attention is required to actively learn, she adds.
2. Crafting gives you control
Then there’s the component of control that so few of us feel from life in the time of COVID-19. But all of us can control whether we work on a crafting project. And upon completing said project—using nothing but your own two hands—the derived sense of achievement can be wonderful.
“There’s so much in the external world that is out of control, that having any task that feels within your control feels really comforting and safe,” says Dr. Manly. “Then there’s also this sense of completion, and, again, a sense of control.” That is to say, even if you can’t follow through exactly as planned on big life events, you can absolutely control whether you complete a watercolor.
3. You can enter flow state while crafting
It’s possible to reach a flow state, a mediative-like mind frame of being “in the zone,” while crafting. “[Flow state] increases the internal state of joy. It is often seen as the ideal state of being,” Dr. Manly says. Research even shows that entering flow state can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, which are rampant during this time.
But, it bears mentioning, each person may access flow state differently (some may reach it by running while others by mediating and still others from knitting, for instance), and entering it isn’t a requirement for experiencing joy in your crafting activity. This is of note because flow state is really only achievable when you’re doing something you’re so good at, it feels natural. “If you take up piano and work and work and work and work, but you’re just not naturally good at piano, you will never reach a flow state,” says Dr. Manly. “Only after the practice no longer becomes deliberate does it becomes natural.”
So, know that if you try to pick up a new crafting skill—and by all means, now is a great time to experiment with new hobbies—the learning process can be frustrating if you’re not a natural talent at it. That’s where knowing yourself and your tolerance to frustration is key because, flow-state access aside, the negativity may get in the way of you experiencing the joy, distraction, and sense of control that crafting stands to offer your mental health in the first place.
“If your personal level of frustration is exceeded, you will feel disheartened and you will want to give up,” Dr. Manly says. When this happens, either take a break to cool off, or realize that perhaps this activity is not for you. Furthermore, know that there’s power in learning to be okay with being bad at something and that crafting is only as overwhelming as you make it.
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