The Benefit of Arts and Crafts for Mental Health
Hobbies are important. They’re entertaining, fulfilling, and, for the most part, keep us out of trouble. The largest subset of hobbies is most certainly arts and crafts, an umbrella term that covers everything from scrapbooking, jewelry making, and crocheting to painting, sculpting, and model building. These hobbies are more than just rewarding ways to spend our free time, however; they are, in fact, wonderful ways to support better and more robust mental health. Here’s how this process works, why it does what it does, and how you can help improve your own mental health through the simple act of taking up arts and crafts as a hobby.
How arts and crafts affect our mental being
Practicing a hobby like arts and crafts does more for us than developing a practical skill, though that alone is a rather impressive feat. The truth is that participating in any type of artistic endeavor, or sometimes even just observing art, can have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing. In fact, art therapy is already used as one of many therapeutic tools for treating certain types of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress (Cohen, 2020). That’s not all, however. Harvard Medical School revealed that there are links between cognitive ability and practicing artistic hobbies as well, painting a clearer picture that arts and crafts can actually hone our cognitive abilities as well (Harvard Health Publishing, 2017). There’s even evidence that artistic hobbies even increase blood flow to the brain, oxygenating it and supporting neurological health (Phillips, 2019).
Who Uses Arts and Crafts Therapy and How Does it Help People?
Arts and crafts therapy, often just referred to as art therapy as shorthand, is as an approach to mental health that uses the processes surrounding the creation of art to improve physical, emotional, and mental wellness. These processes are rooted in the theory that healing and mental well-being can be fostered by creative expression (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010, p. 261). While many therapists and rehabilitation specialists will or won’t use art therapy as one of their treatment tools while working with their patients, the truth is that art therapy can be used by anyone with few limitations on age. This makes it a highly accessible form of self-directed therapy for those who can’t or won’t be seen in a professional setting, though working with a specialist can increase the benefits of art therapy significantly.
When overseen by a specialist, art therapy’s blend of psychotherapy and art-making offers a number of strong therapeutic benefits, according to the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences at George Washington University in Washington, DC; these benefits include enhancing self-awareness, fostering relationships and building stronger communities (Columbia College of Arts & Sciences, n.d.). Other proponents of art therapy, such as the Rogel Cancer Center at Michigan Medical, agree, stating that art therapy can reduce emotional distress, elevate mood and foster self-esteem, develop coping skills, improve relaxation, enhance communication, and improve overall quality of life (Rogel Cancer Center, 2020).
Mental Benefits of Doing Arts and Crafts
Art therapy has been used since the 1940s to help patients improve their mental states. Early pioneers in the field such as Edith Kramer and Margaret Naumburg found that the mental benefits include helping people deal with strong emotions, increasing their self-awareness and self-worth, and decreasing the stress and anxiety they suffered as a result. Continued research has revealed even more mental benefits, including reducing depression in patients with Parkinson’s disease and stimulating mental function in older adults suffering from dementia (Tiret, 2018).
In fact, more than a few famous artists have used art as a way to cope with their own mental illness. One of the most notable examples of this would be Vincent Van Gogh, with much of his artwork expressing the emotional pain he suffered during his life, likely from an undiagnosed condition such as bipolar disorder. Additionally, iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who suffered greatly after barely surviving a bus accident, expressed much of her psychological and physical pain in the wake of that accident. Even Edvard Munch, famous for his evocative and iconic “The Scream”, used his art to express the inner turmoil he suffered from since had been a child. Other notable artists thought to have used art to express and work through their emotional pain include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Edgar Degas, Georgia O’Keefe, Mark Rothko, and even Michelangelo.
List of Different Arts and Crafts to try For Mental Health
Has all of this convinced you, perhaps, to take up a new artistic hobby or two yourself? You’re in good company! As many people have no idea where to even start, we’ve collected a list of different arts and crafts that you can try yourself. Work your way down this list until you find one that feels like the best fit for you and your own mental and emotional needs and you’ll soon be on the road to making beautiful pieces of art.
Did you play a musical instrument in your youth? Many of us have. Whether it was the violin, the clarinet, the guitar, or the piano, the time you spent learning that instrument was never a waste. Revisiting that old instrument, dusting it off and getting back into it can be a rewarding hobby. Never played an instrument before in your life? Maybe it’s time to try one out now. Grabbing a used or inexpensive guitar and teaching yourself to play, with the aid of free resources you can find on the internet, is a great way to learn a new skill that helps you relax and unwind.
Not everyone is born knowing how to draw. Even if you’ve never put pencil to paper before, spending some time doodling with no expectations or pressure can be therapeutic. Sketch pads and pencils are easy to find and not particularly expensive. Visiting a beautiful location such as a local park can provide inspiration, and being out in the fresh air can be beneficial as well. The best part about drawing is that the more you do it, the better you’ll get - even if you don’t consider yourself “talented”.
Too convinced that you couldn’t sketch your way out of a paper bag? Don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways to get into an artistic hobby. Collage is one of those ways, as all you need is a pair of scissors. You can cut up old magazines or newspapers, removing images that speak to you and then pasting them into a blank book or even just a piece of cardboard. Arrange the images in ways that are aesthetically pleasing or meaningful to yourself; you can even turn the finished product into something that you can look at in times of trouble and draw courage or determination from it. Adding an affirmation to that effect is a wonderful way to support your own mental health in these times.
There’s something cathartic about rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty. Sculpture scratches that itch we all feel to just have a seat in the sandbox and play, but with the added benefit of making art as well. Learning the techniques in creating things from pottery, whether it’s a simple coffee mug or it’s a detailed bust, is fulfilling and rewarding in ways that many other arts and crafts might not be.
The best thing about photography is that there’s no longer a massive barrier to entry. Now that everyone has access to a smartphone with a decent camera built right in, you no longer need expensive camera equipment to be a shutterbug. Landscapes, self-portraits, candid photos - whatever strikes your fancy, you can snap a picture of it and look at it later. If you’re particularly proud of a well-composed shot, you can share it on social media or even get it printed out and placed in a photo album.
Knitting or Crocheting
These two distinctly different but still related crafts are fantastic choices for anyone with the manual dexterity, and the patience, to see them through. Whether you decide to pick up knitting or crocheting, you can enjoy the process of progressing through learning basic stitches and then progressively complex ones. The fact that the end product of your hobby can produce actual things to wear, either for yourself or to be given away as gifts, is another bonus. Also, the knitting and crocheting community is a welcoming one - joining an online knitting group can not just help you improve your skills but also provide a social outlet for you as well.
Baking or Cooking
Two skilled crafts that are, again, highly related while still being vastly different, baking and cooking make fantastic hobbies. One part art and one part science, both baking and cooking involve following recipes closely with performing techniques in the kitchen properly. Again, starting small, such as making an omelette or baking a batch of muffins, can lead to more complex - and more rewarding - projects. And if you’re unsatisfied with how something came out, you can always eat the evidence.
Creating Home Decor
Whether it’s making a handsome wreath to hang on the front door or creating a tasteful centerpiece for your dining room table, home decor as a hobby requires both an artistic eye and the skills needed for crafting these objects. You would be amazed at what you can accomplish with some craft store supplies and a hot glue gun; before you know it, you’ll have a revolving collection of decor that you can change with the seasons.
Sewing and Embroidery
Related to knitting and crocheting in that it involves needles and creating things to wear, sewing and embroidery are two sides of yet another crafting coin. Sewing is one of those crafting skills that can lead to any number of projects, from fixing rips in your own clothes to creating Halloween costumes from scratch, while embroidery can create exquisite pieces of miniature art in their own right.
Puzzle and Model Building
Putting together a puzzle or a model might not sound necessarily all that artistic, but the fact is that you are building, piece by piece, something that you can be proud of in the end. Puzzles hone artistic skills like pattern recognition, while model building offers artistic outlets in adding details to model planes, cars, and boats that make them seem less like toys and more like miniature objects.
More than just stringing a couple of beads together on a chain, jewelry making involves learning the techniques used by jewelers in creating necklaces, bracelets, and earrings and then using those techniques in ways that create aesthetically pleasing pieces of wearable art. It’s a wonderful way to express your creativity, both in the making of a piece of jewelry and also wearing it proudly afterwards. Additionally, gifting handmade, handcrafted jewelry to your friends and family will make birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays just that much more special.
The Last Word on Arts and Crafts for Mental Health
Remember: hobbies are more than just ways to pass the time. They offer the kind of physical, emotional, and mental enrichment that you might find yourself needing. No matter what type of hobby you choose to take up, the mere fact that you’ve taken the initiative to learn an art or a craft is often enough to provide you with a much-needed boost to your mental health. You may face challenges along the way, especially when mastering new tools and techniques, but the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel every step of the way will help drive you forward. So sit back, relax, and begin creating. Most of all, have fun!
Art Therapy. (2020, December 15). Rogel Cancer Center | University of Michigan.
Guest Author for www.rtor.org. (2020, July 29). Creativity and Recovery: The Mental Health Benefits of Art Therapy. Resources To Recover.
Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The healing power of art. Harvard Health.
Holly Tiret, Michigan State University Extension. (2021, March 9). The benefits art therapy can have on mental and physical health. MSU Extension.
Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–263.
What Is Art Therapy? | Art Therapy Program. (n.d.). Columbian College of Arts & Sciences | The George Washington University.