Why is it hard to find the motivation to do something that is good for your mental health? And why is crafting meant to be good for you?
I love the idea of crafting and I know that creating something with my hands is good for me. But let's be honest. When the kids are finally asleep I’ll end up watching some awful dating show or doom scrolling on my phone rather than finishing that embroidery I started two years ago.
I even try to get my husband to get involved by subtly buying him ‘cool’ Lego sets that end up cluttering our already saturated house.
I’ve always been interested in mental health. I volunteered with the Samaritans years ago and now run a local peer to peer perinatal mental health support group affiliated with the national charity PANDAS Foundation.
When Ella and I set up Common Room I did a bit of research and found a wonderful article written in 2015 entitled ‘Do or DIY’ written by Kelly Lambert1. What really resonated with me was since the technological revolution we’ve stopped using our hands. We have machines to do everything for us. Washing clothes and dishes? Yep, we’ve got machines for that. Cleaning the car? Drive through car wash. We even have gadgets that automatically stir food in a pan, so you don’t have to.
Remember lockdown when everyone started to bake sourdough and learnt to crochet? People were so proud of themselves, yet how many starter cultures have expired in the back of the fridge or incomplete scarves are lying in our cupboards? We very quickly went back to normal life where everything is fast paced and we don’t focus on those things anymore because, well, we don’t have to.
We can go and see a friend for a coffee if we want to, we might rather stay at home in our pjs but at least we’ve got options, different from the bad old days of 2020/21.
So what’s the biology and psychology of using our hands and positive mental health? Let me tell you.
It’s quite complicated, and I’m definitely no expert so please don’t fact check me, but fundamentally what makes us as humans happy are little chemicals called neurotransmitters. The ones you’ve probably heard of are the ones that antidepressants are meant to increase; serotonin and sometimes dopamine. Dopamine is associated with the brain's reward pathway and serotonin can increase happiness and reduce depression and anxiety. We also have endorphins which are released when we feel pleasure and they can reduce stress and increase our sense of wellbeing.
Back in the days of us being hunter gatherers we used most of our brain power to move and use our hands to build fires, shelters, to hunt and butcher animals, make clothes and equip ourselves to survive. Even though we’ve moved towards a more sedentary lifestyle our brains haven’t caught up. What this means is we don’t use huge parts of our brains anymore. And the result of this is increased levels of anxiety and depression within our society.
To be clear, I’m absolutely not saying this is the only reason people are struggling, we must recognise that modern day work, parenting stress, lack of family support, socioeconomic factors etc are all important and relevant but during the 19th Century doctors used to prescribe knitting to ‘discontent’ women (they did also used to put lead paint on their faces to look pale and eat tapeworm cysts to lose weight) but maybe those physicians did have a point about the knitting.
Crafting is cool
So why does crafting help us? Remember I mentioned those neurotransmitters earlier on? Imagine you do a craft activity for two hours. Phones off, no blue screens, no distractions, pure concentration to manipulate your hands to create something, firing the neurones in those forgotten parts of our brains, endorphin release through doing something pleasurable, serotonin release through manual work, dopamine release when you’ve made something lovely and people praise you for it. That’s how it helps. The result is a lovely sense of wellbeing and achievement. Kind of makes sense doesn’t it?
Now, finally the motivation bit. We all live very hectic lives and at the end of the day sometimes we just want to veg out, and that’s ok. Own it, don’t feel guilty about it. You deserve to watch three hours of Married At First Sight Australia, it’s compelling watching.
But if you do want to have a go at crafting or doing more creative stuff, people are much more likely to be successful at doing if they have a commitment to it. Could you invite your friend’s round and have a night in where you make something together? Could you sign up to a workshop and because you’ve paid and got that date pencilled in you have to go? Could you persuade your boss to organise a teambuilding event around making something?
Ella and I get so much joy working with people, helping them make things and seeing how proud they are of themselves afterwards. We get to observe the impact making has on people. Sometimes they walk into one of our workshops looking unsure or worried that they won’t be able to do it and we see a visible change in their body language, facial expressions and confidence after they’ve spent that time creating something lovely. It’s what makes it all worthwhile. Why not give it a go too?
Get in touch for more info/to arrange a bespoke workshop .
Holt, N. J. (2020). Tracking momentary experience in the evaluation of arts-on-prescription services: Using mood changes during art workshops to predict global wellbeing change. Perspectives in Public Health, 140(5), 270-276.