Growing up, I never thought of myself as someone who struggled with my mental health. Back then, mental health wasn’t discussed in the same way it is now, and I didn’t know what it meant to have “mental health” or even practice mental hygiene. As a highly sensitive person and empath, I now know (thanks to growing older and lots of therapy) that I was frequently riddled with anxiety — especially in social settings — in response to absorbing so much of everyone else’s feelings and experiences, plus dealing with my own. Crafting has always been my safe space to get me through and out of anxious feelings throughout the years.
For as long as I can remember, my entire being has orbited around crafting. It’s the place I go when I need to recalibrate physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, the place I go when I feel lost and afraid, and also the place I go when I feel joy and happiness. Whether it’s a large canvas painting, a crocheted blanket, or gluing hundreds of tiny disco mirrors to a paper maché urn (my latest project), crafting has always been therapeutic, meditative, and felt like coming home to myself. But, it wasn’t until I experienced some of the most terrifying encounters with my anxiety and depression in 2021 that I realized just how necessary having craft hobbies is to my mental state and overall well-being.
I reached out to Djuan Short, LCSW, an EMDR trained therapist and certified trauma competent professional, to provide her insight on whether others also lean on crafting as a coping method. “As more and more people are being open about their mental health challenges, there has been an increase in people engaging in crafting hobbies. Your mental health is greatly impacted by what you think and feel subconsciously. Thus it impacts your feelings and behaviors consciously,” she said, noting how crafting is considered “soul work” and how it can positively impact how we think and feel.
Crafting for Mental Health
Like many people who consider themselves “makers,” I am never short on craft projects and am game to try almost anything and everything under the sun, while I have a few go-to mediums — painting, crochet, and paper maché are some of my pillars — I am particularly drawn to the mediums that are more challenging to me like pottery, embroidery, and sewing. Through a lot of self-reflection, I have realized that the reason for that is that my anxiety prevents me from taking risks in my life, which tends to put a damper on my resilience. When I take risks in crafting, the stakes are much lower but help me practice my strength in facing uncharted waters.
Resilience and risk-taking through crafting are ways my hobby has helped me cope with my anxiety — but they aren’t the only benefits. According to Short, vulnerability, letting go, and building confidence are also ways crafting can support the mind.
Vulnerability: “When you put your ideas out into the world, it can be a very vulnerable experience,” says Short. “Vulnerability is one of the most courageous and beautiful ways a person can show up,” she adds, noting how vulnerability permits us to “tap into our most authentic and truest selves.”
Short also explains how having the ability to see our authentic selves is something so many of us desire, but we tend to have a lot of fear around exploring who we are. “The vulnerability makes you feel seen, and the reality is that being seen and accepted are core desires for many people with mental health issues,” Short explains. “Individuals who craft as a hobby can use this experience to debunk the myth that their worth is based on external factors and others. Instead, it’s based on how they currently see themselves and would like to see themselves as they evolve.”
Letting Go: When I’m feeling anxious, I need a sense of control. Crafting has allowed me to practice letting go of power and all of the barriers I put up around myself in the world. “The goal is to not put pressure on yourself when crafting or engaging in other hobbies because the true goal is for you to let go of the masks you wear in other spaces and allow the real you to surface,” says Short. “The real you is perfectly imperfect, flawed, and makes mistakes — that is what crafting and creating is all about,” she adds.
Confidence: While it’s hard to have confidence when trying something new, the reality is that hobbies — like crafting — can cultivate a sense of confidence in adults. “Adults should have hobbies and try new things because it helps build confidence,” Short confirms. “The more a person practices a skill, the more confident they become,” she adds, explaining how developing that confidence can help to “cement trust in yourself. Thus any fear that might be present can be mitigated by knowing that everything is working out on your behalf because you decided that it would.”
Growing confidence is vital for releasing the fears that hold us back and make us feel anxious. “When we operate in confidence, we operate from a place of knowing that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow,” Short explains. “And, as a byproduct of that confidence, a comfort with oneself also develops,” she adds, describing how being more comfortable with yourself can “give you the courage to do more and show up more for yourself.”
Part of the reason crafting can have such a profound impact on mental health is because creativity is involved, and creativity is a core part of being human. Just like crafting makes me feel like I’m coming home to myself, creativity can make us feel more human. “As a tool to assist with mental health, creativity is something that anyone can cultivate at any moment because it is interwoven within the fabric of our being,” says Short. She explains how many people who seek mental health services are often in search of new ways to gain a better understanding of themselves and the world. “Cultivating a practice of creativity through crafting and other hobbies is a way we can reprogram ourselves by stepping into a mindset that allows for expansion of thought, feeling, and action.”
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