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 that I can still contribute 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 been looking into crafts, from knitting to 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 to cooking to making collages, says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, Harvard Medical School faculty member and founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing in Brookline, Massachusetts.
“Any activity that engages our imagination puts us in the moment and allows us to produce something beautiful, provocative or irresistible,” 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? Are watercolors more relaxing or do you feel too out of control and do you prefer to use pen and paper? You have to play with what feels good to you at the time It can also change and change all the time.
And don’t worry if you’re a “good” artist.
“Whatever you do, whatever you create, is good,” says Mehlomakulu. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try to speak nicely to each other. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with it being hard when you’re learning something new, and sticking to it and not giving up… Just try to enjoy the process and to have fun with.
YouTube has thousands of how-to videos on everything from drawing to knitting to sewing.
“We’re all artists,” Tye says. “Go for it and you’ll increase your ability to see that you’re really good at it.”