Crafting for your Mental Health

Every once in a while an article will come up and sing the praises of crafting for your mental health.  But that was never a secret, we all knew that.  Everyone who has picked up a craft, be it knitting, cross stitch or even origami, knows firsthand how comforting it can be.

There have been many articles, theses, and papers that provide the evidence for the claims.  They also tout the rise of knitting among celebrities.   Even the New York Times did a piece on it. But my favorite paper draws the link between lifelong learning and mental health.

What they don’t tell you is how to get there. For the newbie, crafting can be daunting and frustrating.  I can just imagine someone holding their tangled mess of a yarn ball and wanting to tear their hair out.  I once went to a yoga class and instead of feeling calm and zen I wanted to hang myself.  So I totally understand. 

People tell you that yoga makes you feel so good. So when it doesn’t you either think that you are broken or your yoga is broken.  I kind of think that it is neither. And the same logic applies to crafting.

You need to understand what you are getting yourself into and have realistic expectations.  There is no magic knitting needle that can be waved over you that will give you the gift of relaxation.

Instead, it is more about the practice, attitude, and pragmatism.

Not everyone will enjoy the same things.  I love knitting and find the rhythm to be pleasing and distracting. My mother, on the other hand, loves crocheting.  You have to be ok with the fact that even prescriptions aren’t always a one-size-fits-all and some experimentation might be needed.

You need to give it some time. When you are learning something new, you are focused on the technique. There is little room for relaxing and trusting your hands to do their job.  If you can remember what it was like when you first learned how to type you should know what this is like.  It is a hunt-and-peck thing in the beginning.  Most of us now, can just look at the screen and let our fingers hit the right keys without a second thought.  Once you have the muscle memory thing sorted, your brain can go to the places that find calmness.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

You need to hit the sweet spot, where things are challenging enough that they are interesting but not too difficult that it feels impossible.  Or at least that is my interpretation of it.  I love stockinette and garter stitch, but I am most in my element when I knit lace because I need to focus enough so I don’t mess up but I don’t feel so overwhelmed that I want to give up.

Have the right tools.  If you have to keep stopping to find scissors or a measuring tape you won’t be happy about it.  Keep everything close by and organized.

Location, location, location! You don’t need to knit at the beach, but sitting in your comfortable chair with as little distraction as possible helps.

You have to think of crafting as treatment.  You don’t take the first pill in an antibiotics course and then hope that you will find time for the next one.  You add a reminder or put the box someplace you are sure to see every day. Do the same for your supplies.  Carve time out of your busy day.  Maybe at the end of the day when you need to unwind works for you.  Other people prefer early mornings. 

Finally, be mindful.  Easier said than done.  Mindfulness just means that you need to pay attention to what you are doing without judgement.  But it is doable.  Focus on one stitch at a time.  If you make a mistake, take a deep breath, accept it and fix it.  If you are struggling, stop, and try again.  It is all about being in the moment instead of being all over the place.  Practicing this will help transfer to the rest of your life.  I think this is why crafters generally become calmer over time.  They know that things can be handled and that right now, right here is all that matters.

This is part of your self-care so treat it with that level of importance and you will be on your way.

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