We could all do with few sessions of therapy at some point in our lives. We carry stress, anxiety, and trauma from different periods of our lives from childhood to various milestones in our adulthood. These can include but not limited to all forms of abuse, medical injury, violence, natural disasters, neglect, grief to name a few. Depression and anxiety doesn’t have a race preference, due to stress factors such as racial prejudices, economic disadvantages, and environmental impacts, people of black heritage are most likely to experience depressive thoughts and feelings of anxiety. Also least likely to seek out and or appropriately be treated. This can be exasperated due to a lack of funding, negative stigmas surrounding psychological assistance, and general concerns around the therapist and treatment which can often lead to self-medicating.
Craft as therapy
A more accessible form of therapy is art therapy. Using drawing or painting to reflect our hidden emotions. Or maybe you are familiar with therapeutic mediums such as writing whether it be journaling, poetry, or story writing. But have you ever considered handcrafts as a form of therapeutic release? From knitting, sewing and more recently clay play are all hand activities that can allow the brain to relax and massage the stress muscles to release endorphins to create feelings of happiness.
I personally use craft rituals and craft dates to overcome and manage thoughts of anxiety and depressive episodes. It was during a stress-inducing period at work that I sort out a way to marry my love of making with my 9-5 job. It was a client that sparked an idea after relaying their traumatic experience in a mental institution that I had the idea to start a craft workshop with the aim to provide a safe space to escape institutional labels and find comfort in the shared social activity of making. Many of the clients in attendance was overcoming or managing mental health issues, drug or alcohol abuse, escaping violence, or any other reason that meant that their home environment felt unwelcoming, unsafe, or generally not peaceful. But the workshops were open to all and attracted everyone that was interested in learning something new or re-engaging with an old craft.
Making beautiful objects
Personally I am not much of a believer in making stuff, for the sake of just making stuff. I believe in making things for a purpose. This would result in me demonstrating how to make beautiful objects to use, objects that you want to keep for yourself, or gift to others because you believe there is value in the thing that you have made. So rather than making what I considered naff knitted egg cozies, for example, I would teach attendees how to create more luxury and technically rich items such as soldering silver, leathercraft, screen printing, wood carving, and much more. The activities were exciting, making items that feel inaccessible is a real treat. Each month teaching myself a new technique to showcase and guide the next class.
Surprising benefits of starting and continuing a craft
I had no clue just how powerful the workshops would be in aiding visible transformations in those of my clients who attended and was escaping a stressful or unsettling life episode. I was visibly seeing characters evolve and blossom through the power of craft. Some of the transformations I have witnessed during regular participants' attendance is a more groomed personal appearance, improved personal hygiene, transitioning from a shy persona to an outgoing, new businesses formed (from newly developed or re-engaged craft skills). I could go on and on. When crafting with your hands you receive headspace to escape the noise in that can get built up in the mind. The repetitive nature of crafts such as hand sewing, knitting, working with jewellery forces the mind to take a break. There is also a sense of achievement and pride. During adverse times when you may feel like everything is going wrong, the emotion received by getting something right and making something of value is a joyful experience that becomes addictive.
Start your own self-care plan in 5 steps
Today I use what I learned in running those craft sessions 7 years ago in my own self-care recovery plan to maintain healthy wellbeing. Here is how you can start your own self-care plan.
- How do you currently manage stress and anxiety? Write down the good, the bad and the damn ugly. You may want to create 3 lists, once you have your current coping mechanism written down, you can work towards building on the good ones.
- What are your needs? What brings value to your life daily, weekly, monthly. You can try using a life wheel (try this link for a sample and explanation of the life wheel) to better map this out.
- Now you know what you need, what are the barriers to achieving them? Can you think of 3 things you can do to overcome these barriers?
- Create a self-care environment. Start a self-care ritual. A daily routine that can help you reflect on mind and body. Think breathing, stretching, journaling, make it easy. Set up a sacred space for your new ritual to take place.
- Set a craft date! Make a list of all the crafts you used to love doing maybe as a kid and a list of all the crafts you would love to try as an adult. Put a reoccurring date in the calendar and start ticking off your list or try engaging with one thing and increasing your skill with your chosen subject each week.
In my opinion, therapy if accessible should be sorted out by all to ensure you are able to be the best version of yourself. However, before, during, and after my own personal experience of therapy, a self-care recovery plan using crafts gave me space to reflect, overcome challenging thoughts and processes, and find space to rest.
If you are interested in starting your own craft ritual or craft date you may want to check out some of my online and in-person workshops here.