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  • Writer's pictureDana Watts

Crafting - Why We All Should Be Crafters

You realize how important crafts are when you learn that the National Institute of Health (NIH) funds research to study the psychological benefits of crafting! Ask any crafter, though, and they will tell you that they don't need NIH studies to tell them what they already know beyond a shadow of a doubt: crafting makes them happy, confident, engaged. The process of creating something invigorates and energizes them. They thrive as they create: a lump of clay becomes beautiful pottery; a ball of yarn, a stylish hat; scraps of metal, an inspiring sculpture; a used book, a conversation piece of precise folding and cutting to showcase a loved photograph. The crafters know all this already, but it’s nice to have NIH confirm it. Studies show that crafts foster numerous benefits: improved cognitive functioning, improved dexterity and coordination, feelings of empowerment, self-confidence and self-esteem, decreased anxiety and depression, stronger social connections.1

Some statistics about crafting :

30% of the US population does some sort of craft on a regular basis

81% are women

19% are men

16% of crafters participate in one craft

39% participate in 2-4 crafts

45% are involved in 5 or more (Forbes)

$43.85 billion market size of arts and crafts supplies industry

In my family...

In my family, we all craft. I grew up with parents who were crafters. My sister is a master crafter who practically has an entire craft store in her house and a crafting Youtube channel. You name it, she has probably tried it. My son is a woodworker who makes furniture for relaxation. My daughter crochets Amigurumi, which is the Japanese art of crocheting realistic 3D animals and characters. As a crafter, I am a forager. I do one form of crafting for a while, then I move on and try something else (of course, that means I never get really good at any of them, but I do have fun in the process). Currently, I do needle felting, which to me feels like magic. You take a handful of unspun wool and start poking it with a special needle and poke it and mold it and shape it until it takes on the form you want.

Crafting is like a wormhole to an alternate universe: raw material of whatever kind (even discarded items, like bottle caps, cardboard, empty pet food bags, empty jars and bottles, old cds - remember those?) is transformed into something imaginative, functional, fun, eye-catching. The inventiveness and creativity of crafters is fascinating and mind-boggling. I urge you to go to a craft fare this summer to see for yourself. It’s pretty amazing!

But how exactly does crafting bestow such benefits upon the crafter?

To answer this question, we need to talk about FLOW, a psychological process first described in the 1970’s by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, an Hungarian-American psychologist. According to Csikszentmihaly, flow is the state of mind in which the person is completely immersed in an activity to the point that actions and awareness merge into a seamless, unself-conscious process. There is sustained, unwavering focus. In this state, worries and anxiety melt away and there is an absence of self-critical preoccupation and negative thoughts. One of the hallmarks of flow is the altered sense of time. Sometimes, it feels like time stops, in the sense that there is no awareness of the passage of time; or it feels that time speeds up, as in “time flies” and hours feel like minutes. In flow, actions follow each other as if the whole self is poured into that activity. Ultimately, flow is about peak human performance, and when people achieve that, they feel a great sense of exhilaration, achievement, and success. Elite athletes, musicians, performers have been found to achieve the state more readily than the average person. Crafters are right up there with the elites in terms of flow.

So how can you get some of that flow?

1. Find Your Passion

Flow is not a cognitive process. You can’t just say, “I am going to sit down and get some flow going.” Flow is essentially the result of engaging in an activity that one is skilled at and feels passionate about. You can see why crafters can reach that state more readily than many. When they engage in their craft, they are doing something that is intrinsically valuable, enriching, and positive for them from the very outset. Their brain is already primed to experience positive emotions. Even as they reach for their craft, the stresses of the day fall away, and their brain releases dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter. Thus, craft and reward become linked on a chemical level in a way that can feel like an addiction.

While I was learning the fundamentals of felting, Youtube instructors would comment on the addictive nature of this craft, warning that it is very hard to stop once you start. I don’t know of any crafter who robbed a bank to support their crafting habit, but the brain chemicals are like those involved in other addictions.

Action Plan: So, if you want discover the sweet spot where flow happens, find the thing that you are good at and passionate about and start doing it. Many times clients tell me that they used to have a hobby or do crafts that they loved, but they are too busy now. It is true. We are all far too busy, with many demands pulling us in different directions. But a craft is the quiet place in the storm where you can do something that is positive and enriching and calming. Just as it wouldn't make sense to say, “I used to eat, but I don’t anymore because I am too busy,” so it is with an activity that helps restore and decompress. And if in that process you reach the state of flow, how marvelous! Lucky you!

2. Hone Your Skills

For the state of flow to occur, there has to be a balance between skill level and challenge. If the challenge is too great for the skill level, the activity will be too stressful and overwhelming. If the skill level is far above the challenge level, the activity will be perceived as too easy or boring. In either case flow will not occur. There has to be just enough challenge to stretch the skills, while fostering a feeling of engagement that leads to effortlessness. You can see why flow is a pretty hard thing to come by. To make matters worse, many things can disrupt this balance. Daily distractions, preoccupation, pings on your phone, fatigue, illness, sleep problems, general stress all interfere with flow.

Action Plan: In order to gain expertise in something, you have to be willing to be a novice. The great thing, though, is that the brain rewards you for baby steps, for challenging yourself to do something new (click this link to learn about the benefits of going outside your comfort zone), and with each baby step you take, you become stronger. Flow is the gift your brain gives you for persistence. So, rediscover an old passion or discover a new one and start on the path to a state of flow.

3. Manage Your Stress

Flow is the outcome of a mental state of curiosity, interest, drive, and intrinsic motivation to learn or achieve something. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do something for its own sake rather than for an external gain. It empowers the thirst to keep learning and growing. On the flip side, negative mental states, such as perfectionism, self-criticism, self-consciousness, anxiety, self-doubt (check this link about the impact of negative thoughts) are damaging to your health and to your ability to experience flow. They hold you back from living the life you want to live.

At the end of the day, we all have the capacity to experience flow. The challenge is understanding what the problems are that interfere with that capacity.

Action Plan: If you feel that stress and anxiety are sapping your energy and interfering with the kind of life you wish to have, call your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. Together you can build the pathways that lead to a rich and fulfilling life.

Dr. Dana Watts

Clinical Psychologist

Helping Clients in the Greater Cleveland Area




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Kerry Stack
Kerry Stack
May 06, 2023

I love this!!!! The process of creating clears the mind and heart, and slows us down. It’s like meditation. For me it’s knitting, but I also “forage” as you so succinctly put it.

Dr. Watts
Dr. Watts
May 08, 2023
Replying to

Yes! I endorse knitting as a great outlet for stress, and as a form or meditation, and as a way to create beautiful things. Thank you for your feedback


May 03, 2023

I’m so happy to know that I can now justify my crafting addiction! Crafting is my happy place - I forget about everyday worries and I get lost in my craft, whatever it may be at the time. Thank you for this wonderful post. The world would be a much better place if everyone picked up a crafting hobby.

Dr. Watts
Dr. Watts
May 03, 2023
Replying to

I so agree with you! Haha! I am glad that you have scientific backing for you crafting addiction. You are lucky to have a happy place where you also use your hands to create! It is so centering and grounding. Thank you for your comment and for the positive feedback.

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