Crafting boosts creativity and reduces pandemic stress

When Girija Kaimal feels anxious, she often turns to crochet or fabric work to calm herself down.

“I have certain role models that I like to do,” she says, “and that just reinforces to me that all is well in the world, and I can still contribute to it in a meaningful way.”

Kaimal is president of the American Art Therapy Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia, and believes in the mental health benefits of getting creative.

Many people have taken to crafts, from knitting and beading to adult coloring books, during the pandemic. The stress of the past two years has had an emotional impact on Americans of all ages.

“A lot of crafts also have a sort of repetitive, meditative quality to them that can be very calming,” says Carolyn Mehlomakulu, an art therapist who runs a blog called Creativity in Therapy.

Crafting can be anything that activates our creative impulses, from gardening and cooking to making collages, says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, Harvard Medical School faculty member and founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing at Brookline, Mass.

“Any activity that engages our imagination, puts us in the moment, and allows us to produce something beautiful, provocative, or irresistible matters,” he says.

Music lessons have also taken off during the pandemic, as have home improvement projects.

Plus, there’s always time to create, even during the working day.

“It could be knitting on your lunch break or gluing while listening to a Zoom call,” says Essence Jackson-Jones of Imani Wellness Art & Healing in Chicago.

How to find the job that suits you?

It depends on the person and what makes them feel relaxed and in control. For some, that means learning something new. For others, it means falling back into something familiar.

“You can kind of feel it,” suggests Caroline Tye of Dandelion Art Therapy in Chicago. “Is coloring enjoyable? Is watercolor more relaxing, or is it too out of control and you prefer to use pen and paper? You have to play with what makes you happy. well at that time. It can change and change all the time too.”

And don’t worry if you’re a “good” artist.

“Whatever you do, whatever you create is fine,” Mehlomakulu says. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try to speak kindly to each other. Remember that it’s okay for it to be a challenge when you learn something new, and you stick with it and don’t. ‘Don’t give up… Just try to enjoy the process and have fun with it.’

YouTube has thousands of how-to videos on everything from drawing to knitting to sewing.

“We’re all artists,” says Tye. “Go for it and you’ll increase your ability to see that you’re really good at it.”

Girija Kaimal holds a clay craft piece in this photo from 2018. Kaimal is president of the American Art Therapy Association, based in Alexandria, Va., and believes in the mental health benefits of creativity. (Peggy Peterson Photography via AP)

About Tracy G. Larimore

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