Crafting: A New Cure-All For Mind, Body And Spirit?

ball_yarn.jpgCall it Jonas, Snowzilla or David Snowie—there were plenty of names swirling around the massive snow storm that recently hit the east coast. My neighborhood saw around 30 inches, which was enough to keep us all housebound for four days straight.

During our confinement I began reading “Little House on the Prairie” books out loud to my daughter. As I read, it struck me how the Ingalls household kept happily busy, even during the long winter months, without television or even much reading. They had things to tend to, whether it was mending clothes or looking after the animals. The tasks gave them a sense of purpose and helped the cold, dark days pass by easier.

I can relate. The stir-crazies would have surely overtaken me in the aftermath of our snowstorm, if not for one my trusty crochet needles and the wool yarn I had bought a few years back. The repetitive nature of crocheting put my claustrophobic, anxious mind at ease, even as the progress of my work formed into a blankie for my youngest child. It was a meditative and productive use of my time.

It turns out I’m not alone in feeling this. A huge resurgence of interest in such activities nowadays means you are just as likely to see a teenager with tattoos and piercings knitting on the metro as a grandmother in her rocking chair doing the same. According to the Craft Yarn Council, a third of women ages 25 to 35 know how to knit or crochet, with many men and young children learning the craft as well.

It can be argued that we no longer need to knit a hat or crochet a scarf in order to keep us warm in the long winter months. Unlike the Ingalls family in their little house on the prairie, we are no longer dependent on handcrafts to sustain us. After all, we can easily buy a machine-made hat or scarf in a store. Why then are so many of us turning to such activities?

The answer, as it turns out, may have more to do with crafting’s therapeutic qualities than its utilitarianism. A growing body of evidence points to the health benefits of picking up a creative craft such as crocheting or knitting...or anything really. Whether it keeps your hands active to ward off arthritic pain or calms your mind, crafting seems to help with any number of ailments.

A recent article by Jane E. Brody in The New York Times expands on this theory:

2009 University of British Columbia study of 38 women with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa who were taught to knit found that learning the craft led to significant improvements. Seventy-four percent of the women said the activity lessened their fears and kept them from ruminating about their problem.”

Likewise, patients with chronic pain have benefited tremendously from crafting activities. Another study of 60 self-selected people with chronic pain demonstrated that knitting enabled them to redirect their focus, thereby reducing their sense of pain. This may be due to the fact that the brain is only able to process so much information at one time.

Many Neuroscientists now believe that learning a craft or any creative skill such as cooking, photography, drawing, or cake decorating may in fact increase dopamine levels in the brain, leading to happier people with less symptoms of depression.

An article in CNNexplains the theory in more detail:

The reward center in your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine when you do something pleasurable. Scientists believe dopamine was originally designed to make us repeat activities that would help the species survive, such as eating and having sex. Over time, we've evolved so that the brain can also release dopamine while we're staining glass or decorating a cake.”

Most encouraging, perhaps, is research that suggests that crafting can also strengthen our cognitive ability by staving off the various declines of old age.

 The same article in the New York Times goes on to explain:

In a2011 study, researchers led by Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., interviewed a random sample of 1,321 people ages 70 to 89, most of whom were cognitively normal, about the cognitive activities they engaged in late in life. The study, published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, found that those who engaged in crafts like knitting and crocheting had a diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.”

Other studies, such as a2014 study by Denise C. Park of the University of Texas at Dallas, support this theory by demonstrating that learning a craft such as quilting or even digital photography has the potential to enhance memory function in older adults.

As winter storms and cold weather rage on, confining us to our thoughts and indoor activities, what better way to fight the winter blues by restoring our physical and mental wellbeing with a newly learned craft? Take a class or look up a how-to Youtube video. Make something silly or something you are actually proud of—either way you will be doing yourself (and the people around you) a tremendous, and crafty, favor!

PHOTO: A skein of Rockin' Rose by Fibreoptica via Flickr


Read all stories by Juniper Briggs

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