Hard craft

Delving into the psychological benefits of cra ing activities.

Words Maddie Ballard



Tangible Media



Have you ever sat down with your knitting and found yourself overcome with a sense of calm and wellbeing? Or maybe you get a hit of calm and pleasure from cooking, crocheting or even colouring in. What’s key is that you experience the sensation when you’re doing something crafty – something that results in an output, and that’s creative while not being too strenuous. That sense of calm and wellbeing is more than just a fleeting pleasure. It turns out that craft activities such as knitting come with a whole host of psychological benefits. “That sense of mastery and pleasure you get from doing something with a tangible outcome – that sense of achievement and progress – is really, really good for your wellbeing,” says Dougal Sutherland, clinical psychologist at Umbrella Wellbeing. He explains that participating in a craft activity is an excellent way to access something called ‘flow’ state. ‘Flow’, a term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”. Basically, it’s a state of complete and pleasurable creative absorption. “In a flow state, you’re completely immersed in an activity and it’s pushing your boundaries a little bit, but not to an overwhelming extent,” says Sutherland. “So you need a certain skill level and there’s an element of manageable challenge, but it’s not so di icult as to put you o .” ‘Flow’ gives you the boost of doing something you’re good at, as well as the enjoyment of growing your skills. Sutherland adds that one of the main characteristics of ‘flow’ is that it’s an active state. “It’s not reading a book or watching Netflix,” he says. ‘Flow’ is often mentioned in sports analogies, but you can reach a flow state in any activity involving a bit of active e ort and skill – such as knitting. Craft activities can not only help you unlock a ‘flow’ state, they can also provide a great distraction from anything stressful you might have going on. If you’re overwhelmed at work or in your relationships, you might find the escape you need in a few rows of stitches. Plus, there’s often a social aspect to crafting which can benefit your mental health. Not for no reason are ‘stitch and bitch’ groups a cliché – getting together with a bunch of fellow enthusiasts can help you make new friends, maintain existing friendships and simply get a bit of low-e ort social time into a busy week. Socialising triggers the release of oxytocin, a neurochemical that makes us feel relaxed and happy, so it’s great for mental wellbeing, and getting a hit at the same time as a favourite hobby can be extra e icient for those with busy lives. Overall, Sutherland stresses that psychologists specifically prescribe craft activities as a way to cope with low mood and depression: engaging in a crafty activity can help beat the winter blues. “We get those struggling with low mood to do what we call ‘pleasant events’,” he explains. “Often people struggling with depression lose the desire to do activities they previously found pleasurable, or they struggle to find joy in things – and they often say that’s because they don’t feel like doing things they used to do while they were happy, when now they’re not feeling their best. But the behaviours you engage in can change how you feel, not just the other way round. It’s a two-way street.” So, if you’re feeling a little blah, a spot of crafting could be just the pick-me-up you need: break out the knitting and watch your mood soar. GET CRAFTY Keen to craft but not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. 1. Give it a Google. If you’re not sure which craft is right for you, try Googling a few to see what you like the look of. Make a list of things that tickle your fancy and don’t feel too stuck once you’ve picked one – you can always try another if it doesn’t take! 2. Stick to structure. If you can, we recommend learning the ropes of your chosen craft in a class – or if you don’t have the time or budget, YouTube is your friend! Try searching for beginner techniques or ‘introduction to [insert craft here]’ for relevant results. 3. Find your tribe. Part of the fun of crafting is meeting other people who share the same hobby – so reach out wherever you can. If you don’t know anyone interested in your craft, have a search among the Facebook groups in your area or start your own group – all you need is one keen friend. 4. Take it slow. Beginning a new hobby can be extremely exciting, and it’s natural to want to do it all the time, and try to progress very quickly. But part of the joy of crafting is how it can slow down your thoughts and help you focus on the present. Embrace that mindfulness by taking each step gently. 5. Begin with an achievable project. Don’t overwhelm yourself by jumping in the deep end too early – start with a project that relies mostly on basic techniques, so you can master those first. An early win is vital to keeping your enthusiasm and sense of achievement and progress up! Clinical psychologist Dougal Sutherland