Meditation and mindfulness: two buzz-words you hear almost every day when discussing how to strategically cope with our hectic lives. Whilst no one will dispute the proven benefits of practicing both on a regular basis, I wonder: Is there an alternative pathway to creating a healthy mind? One that might feel more accessible to those not particularly drawn to the idea of group chanting or prolonged silence? In my opinion, the answer is yes, through crafting.
To a medically trained professional, the idea of signing up for a craft course may sound a little “show and tell” but as studies prove, the health benefits of learning to craft are quite remarkable.
I am a veterinary surgeon in the UK, and in my spare time I make and teach ceramics. Working as a vet is incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly stressful. However, learning how to make pottery has been revolutionary in helping to steady my mind and create a better balance in my life.
What are the health benefits of crafting?
- Crafting creates a social network.
Most people learn a new craft through courses. These tend to bring together a diverse group of people from many different backgrounds. In the age of social media and technology, it’s amazing how refreshing and rewarding it can be to actually converse with a real person about a topic you are both innately interested in!
- Crafting can reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
In an online study of 3,545 knitters in the UK, more than half of the respondents claimed that knitting left them feeling very happy, and those that knitted more than three times a week were calmer, happier, less sad, less anxious and more confident.
Whilst such studies haven’t been conducted on every form of crafting, it seems reasonable to suggest the same should be true across the board.
- Crafting is mindfulness.
The secret to successfully throwing clay on the wheel is by giving the clay 100% of your total, undivided attention. I often find that those who are learning ceramics will experience a feeling of extreme focus followed by a rush of achievement as the clay is transformed from a ball of mud into a purposeful shape.
Seasoned potters can tap into this zen-like state very quickly, similar to someone practicing regular mindfulness. However, the benefit of crafting over straight mindfulness (or meditation) is that crafting leads to something tangible that can be used and treasured. This creates a purpose and as a result, the person is more likely to repeat the process and work it into their regular routines.
- Crafting improves cognitive function through learning and teaching.
Crafting is a bit different than many other forms of art. Whenever I am explaining the benefits of crafting to a room of vets or medics, the most common concern from the audience is that they do not see themselves as “artsy” – understandable in a room full of scientists.
However, crafting is about learning a new skill. Whether it’s clay, textiles, woodwork or any other form of craft, these disciplines can be taught and mastered through repetition. This has very little to do with artistic flare and therefore, every single person, regardless of natural creativity, can benefit.
- Crafting improves hand-eye coordination.
As a new veterinarian, I graduated from college with a mind overflowing with academia but with very little formal training on practical skills – for example, how to properly hold and use surgical instruments.
By learning hand-eye coordination through crafting, it can better prepare the brain to communicate more effectively with the hands to improve both manual dexterity and spatial awareness. Key skills for any new surgeon with a scalpel in their hands!
There are endless additional benefits that people discover when crafting, and although not every hobby is for everyone, surely there is a craft that might be great for you!
You can follow my crafting and veterinary adventures on my instagram @drjgreenwood