If you suffer from stress and anxiety, you’ve probably tried all sorts of strategies to clear your head and feel better.
But alongside exercise, meditation and other traditional stress-boosting techniques, you might want to consider stopping by your local craft store. For many people, focusing on making something creative—whether it’s knitting a blanket, designing your own home décor or making jewelry—can be an important tool for focusing and feeling good.
In a study of more than 4,000 men and women who participated in different types of recreational activities, Howard Tinsley, professor emeritus of psychology at Southern Illinois University, says the benefits of crafting stood out from other types of recreation.
Crafting provides an opportunity for self-expression, which can promote relaxation. Finding familiar patterns to follow in your projects can have a calming effect, Tinsley says.
“Self-expression is the opportunity to follow a familiar routine that’s comfortable,” he says. “To individuals feeling some kind of anxiety or stress, they don’t have to worry about being guarded.”
Crafting challenges us to step outside of our usual routine, and all of the frustrations and worries that can come with it, Tinsley says.
“It’s the feeling of an experience that’s not really available in a normal day-to-day routine,” he says.
“People get up in the morning, go to their job, do the same things over and over again. Crafts take them outside of that normal daily routine and give the an opportunity to express some kind of pleasure that maybe isn’t available in other aspects of their life.”
Crafting also stands out because it’s something people can either do alone or as part of a group.
Study participants who got involved in other social activities, like joining a club or religious group or volunteering, felt a notable sense of service and belonging. Tinley says it’s likely people who join a knitting group or painting class to teach, learn or share their craft with others would find similar social benefits.
Trying out a new craft can also give your mental health a boost.
By trying something new, you build up and improve upon new skills, challenging yourself mentally and even physically. Plus, there’s the sense of satisfaction you get from building competency in different areas. And with crafts, it’s not a make-or-break skill like completing tasks at work or keeping up with house projects, so there’s no pressure to be perfect right away.
“There’s the satisfaction people get from improving their skills and developing their talent—seeing they’re getting better at something,” Tinsley says.
The total package
It’s tough to measure exactly how much of an impact crafts alone have on our moods and stress levels, Tinsley says. That’s in part because we usually have all sorts of activities going on in our daily lives, and each can play into each other.
But adding crafts to the mix in combination with other activities or treatment options may be powerful.
“We don’t do just one thing,” Tinsley says. “It’s a variety, it’s a total package of things we do that helps.”