Discover the surprising benefits of these winter activities
For most of my life, I had no interest in crafts. I was too busy doing what I considered more important things. My attitude changed a few years ago when several people, including mental health professionals, told me the tactile movements and structured creativity involved in a craft might help clear out the cobwebs in my head, and give my brain a much-needed vacation from its cerebral homeland.
Turns out, they were on to something.
Neuroscientists are beginning to study the mental health benefits of meditative activities like painting and sculpting. A study published in Occupational Therapy International demonstrated that activities, such as drawing and other arts and crafts, can stimulate the neurological system and enhance well-being.
Winter is an appropriate time to dabble in a craft, either by yourself or as part of a class. Where to start? Here are seven mood-lifting crafts for the season:
I was once invited to a scrapbooking party and left after 10 minutes. The sight of scrapbook paper, ribbons, stamps, inks, die-cutting machines, and albums completely overwhelmed me. It seemed like way too much work.
However, I envied my friend’s finished product. It was a gorgeous memory book her children would treasure for years to come and pass on to their kids. My teenagers? They’ll have to rummage through a corrugated box of loose photos, certificates, and a few Mother’s Day cards. To scrapbook, you don’t need to buy half the aisle of an arts and crafts supply store. Merely glue an image or photo into an album. Then add your special touch. Or not.
Like scrapbooking, photography is a creative effort to capture seasons of your life or seasons of the year. Margarita Tartakovsky, who blogs about creativity for Psych Central, offers one idea to help you get started using your camera. Pick one place, the same place – the spot where you eat lunch, the bus stop where you start your commute, your child’s favorite swing at the park – and photograph it every day or several times a week. Says Margarita, “After the end of winter, look over all the photos you've taken, and observe how Mother Nature shifts the space from day to day or week to week. Use a photo website to create a digital collage, and print it out. Or print out the photos, and create your collage by hand, pasting the photos onto a poster board or scrapbook. Or illustrate the images instead!”
The Chinese philosopher Laozi once said of pottery, “Shape clay into a vessel. It is the space within that makes it useful.…Therefore benefit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.” Therein lies the therapeutic power of this craft: the process of creating something useful and beautiful from ordinary clay.
Cameron Bach has been making pottery for over 25 years. As an anthropology major at Arizona State University she took a pottery class and got hooked. Today she runs Quirk-N-Bach Pottery in Annapolis, Maryland with a business partner and produces dozens of pieces a day. “What I like about pottery is that it’s never-ending,” she told me. “There’s a different temperature, glaze, shape. You can never master any part … ever.” For people who want to begin the craft, she recommends you take a class. “Take more than one and with more than one teacher. There is always something to learn.”
4. Jewelry making and beading
A few years back I visited a friend who put me up in her “bead room.” It was filled with beautiful crystals, pearls, and stringing. One afternoon I watched her design lovely necklaces with pendants, beaded bracelets, and exquisite earrings. She told me it was an effective stress-reliever, especially in the years that her mother was sick and dying. Heather Tobin beads for much of the same reason. She’s been making jewelry for 20 years. “I started when I was both very ill with a kidney infection plus extremely depressed during a particularly brutal New England winter,” she explained to me. “Ever since then, every winter I make my home office into my ‘creative sanctuary!’ It so keeps me sane.” For Heather, jewelry is a meditative practice that helps her concentration. She finds joy in working with colorful semi-precious stones and Italian glass beads.
5. Felted soaps
Heather also makes felted soaps, or soaps covered in pure wool. Like her jewelry, she works with bright colors that help her fend off the winter blues and lift her spirits. “Crafting brings me such joy,” she told me, “as I can create flowers and green gardens with my designs, bringing such hope and sunlight even when snowbound during the ample blizzards we get. I return to my childhood joy of working with my hands to create!” What’s unique to soap making, she says, is the “amazing scents of pure essential oils I use, like French lavender and mint.” She explained that the softness of the wool is a tactile delight for her. Soap making engages all of her senses.
Perhaps there’s no better winter craft that losing yourself in the kitchen. Baking can be a meditative practice that stimulates feel-good endorphins. For Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana, Mrs. New York USA Universal 2015, the kitchen is her happy place. “Baking is one thing that instantly picks me up,” she told me. “It reminds me of one of my favorite times in life—growing up with my grandmother—and it allows me to use my artistic side. But most of all, baking for me is about making something for the people I love. Nothing makes me happier than friends or family members enjoying a delicious treat I have made for them!” On her website, LupusChick.com, she offers a fun selection of recipes, from pumpkin carrot soup to strawberry and blueberry yogurt smoothies.
Ready to fire up the oven? Whole Foods Market and Williams Sonoma offer cooking classes and culinary events at several locations around the country.
Two years ago I participated in a women’s art therapy class. Each week we applied finger paints, water colors, and acrylics to canvases guided by an assignment prompt – usually a meaningful quote. We used colors, symbols, and textures to lend expression to what was tucked inside our hearts. I was taken aback by the powerful creations of the women in the group, the ability of art to express our emotions and tell our stories. The paintings conveyed a depth of feeling that was difficult to articulate in words. At the end of the class, we collected photos of all of our pieces and compiled them into a scrapbook. It was a beautiful collage of healing journeys.
If you’re serious about experimenting with a craft, the possibilities are endless: woodworking, miniatures, candle making, paper crafting, knitting and crochet, embroidery, and basket weaving. Nurture your creative self while the weather is still cold, and you just might find yourself with more energy, concentration, and optimism.