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Editorial blog

Arts and craft are your way to health and wellbeing

12 Oct 2017
By John Gatimu

The theraputic value of arts and craft has long been known – we take a look at the benefits it can bring

Wellbeing and mental health are big issues and the art and craft industry can play a big part in helping to combat some of the problems.

Everyone can be affected and arts and crafts can be a source of calm in a discordant world. Whether it is through workshops, connections with retirement homes, hospitals or schools crafting can be a way of reaching out to the community.

Rachel Boyd, the information manager for Mind, the mental health charity, said: “Mind knows that lots of people can find creative activities, like sewing and needlework, particularly beneficial because they can help you switch off from day-to-day pressures. Producing something tangible for yourself or for a loved one which can be enjoyed on an aesthetic level, can give you a huge sense of pride and enjoyment and can turn negative thoughts or feelings into something positive. For some people, just sitting still and working on craft activities can be a relaxing experience.

“There is some research evidence to suggest that craft activities, when done on a regular basis, can improve mood and increase feelings of relaxation. Crafting as part of a group was found to give an even greater boost to wellbeing, which shows the importance of social connections like our families and friends for our mental health.”

Jennifer Ward, editor of Sew magazine, has also seen the beneficial aspects that creative activities can bring into people’s lives.

She said: “I regularly receive emails and letters from our readers, who tell me how sewing has helped them during a difficult period in their life; whether that’s coming to terms with the death of a loved one, calming their mind during a spell of anxiety or depression, or serving as a distraction from poor physical health.

“Even during times when life does get easier, I think the majority of people need some respite from their dayto- day stresses of life and an opportunity to relax from their working day; sewing and crafts in general serves as a self-care in that it allows an individual to spend some quality time doing something for themselves or to be mindful.”

Deirdre Figueiredo, MBE Director of Craftspace, a craft development organisation based in Birmingham, is involved in projects that aid wellbeing and knows full well the benefits it can bring.

She said: “For those engaged in making, whether an artist or a participant, we see evidence from our projects that craft offers an embodied way of being in the world that benefits a sense of well-being. Makers identify a gentle social or emotional learning in which the process of making contributes to an individual’s sense of ‘wellness’ and self-confidence.

“In individual making, it is the repetition and total absorption in materials and process which enables the mind to focus on the task in hand. Young people facing mental health issues taking part in our ‘Craft in Mind’ project told us it ‘can distract and disconnect you from whatever might be troubling you like a kind of hypnosis’. They found it easier to talk about highly personal things whilst making in a safe non-clinical space.

“There is also the communal, collective aspect of craft in which it becomes a social process and connective activity. Shelanu, our craft collective with refugee and migrant women, enables people whose health might be affected by feelings of isolation and disempowerment to make together. Collective making and skills sharing builds social capital and a sense of self-worth and belonging within a community.

These are attributes which lead to positive thinking, agency and therefore better health, perhaps increased resilience to adversity.”

Paul M Camic, PhD, PFRSPH, Professor of Psychology & Public Health at Canterbury Christ Church University, said: “The crafts can be very useful for a variety of reasons, similar to the arts that they allow someone to create something, to become engaged in an activity that is slightly challenging as well as enjoyable. I think that sometimes with dementia care people think we don’t want to challenge people, it might upset them. But we see the opposite and that challenge is often quite welcome as long as it isn’t too high above their skill and ability level.

“It is also good for the families to also get involved crafting with them. They are not engaging with the disease or the diagnosis, they are engaging with their family member. They’re not talking about or struggling around medication or about aspects around the symptoms of the disease but they are engaging in a usual activity.

“We’ve had participants tell us that it was unexpected respite for them – that they didn’t have to get away from the family member to feel respite they were engaged in an activity that was enjoyable, they could see their own interests developing. So that could be a tremendous benefit from crafts in particular.

“It is helpful for any older person, not only those with dementia, those that are lonely or isolated. We have just finished a rather large study with isolated older people, 65-94. One of the things that happens is they become habitual as their partner dies, friends move away or die, sometimes they retreat and depression can start and, if not depression, a sense of loneliness and isolation so engaging in craft activities and museum-based programmes can help people. Quoting from participants they have said they can re-engage with my life again and give myself more meaning.”

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