Over three-quarters of American households have at least one family member who spends an average of 7.5 hours weekly engaged in crafting or hobbies. But crafting is not only popular—even cool now that Julia Roberts knits and a whole slew of celebrities, from Jennifer Aniston to Tony Bennett, paint—it’s healthy. Crafting is a great way for caregivers to help themselves. To tap into the healing power of crafts, follow these guidelines:
Find a craft you love—the more rhythmic and repetitive, the better. Passion for a craft keeps you interested, while the rhythmic and repetitive nature confers the mind-body benefit. Knitting, sewing, crocheting, woodworking and other rhythmic crafts are great choices.
Make time for your craft every week, and ideally every day. Don't think of this time as a self-indulgence, but a medical necessity. “View your craft as if it were a medication that you need to take every day for optimal benefit,” says Robert Reiner, PhD, a New York University psychologist whose landmark study documented the health benefits of sewing and other leisure activities. “If you stop taking the drug or doing the craft, you'll lose the benefit.”
“Even if it's difficult to schedule,” says Gail McMeekin, MSW, author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women and The Power of Positive Choices, “it's important to make time for crafts because they allow you to tune into your body and your creativity, to release frustration and tap into your deepest emotions.”
Create a space just for crafting. Set up a dedicated craft space in your home rather than occasionally commandeering the dining-room table. By doing so, you can craft whenever you have a few moments to spare. Put your craft supplies in a basket or in the car, or take over part of a room or office. Just try to find a space that is yours alone.
Take a class to advance your skills. An added bonus: You’ll meet other crafters. “Countless studies show that socializing with others is an effective way to release stress,” says Dr. Reiner. “We are social animals and we need to interact with other people to stay healthy.”
It's also empowering to find a mentor who can offer guidance when you need it. “Just make sure your mentor allows you to express yourself, rather than dictating that you do things her way,” advises McMeekin. “You want to release your creativity, not squash it.”
Find flow. “Flow,” a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, describes a state of complete absorption and intense joy. When you're in a state of flow, you lose track of time as you focus on the task at hand—a feeling akin to an athlete’s “being in the zone.” Over the past 30 years, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi has studied 3,000 people to find out how they achieve flow. Actively engaging in a craft about which you’re passionate, he found, is one way to do it. Sedentary activities such as watching television don't bring flow, but painting a landscape may.
The other key to achieving flow lies in setting goals. These benchmarks should be challenging enough to keep you interested and involved, but not impossible to achieve, says Dr. Reiner. You have to push yourself a little bit to hone your skill. If the craft is too humdrum, you'll get bored and stop.
Enjoy the process. Rather than focusing on the end product, heed the process. "What you make is only the residue of how much fun you’ve had," says Diane Ericson, a fabric artist, teacher and creativity coach in Aptos , California . The key is to revel in the task of creating, rather than just mindlessly pushing to finish a project.
“The act of performing a craft is incompatible with worry, anger, obsession and anxiety, and that’s one of the ways in which we believe crafts are healing,” adds Dr. Reiner. “Crafts make you concentrate and focus on the here and now.”