The beneficial effect of creativity on mental health has been talked about for several years – back in the twentieth century, after the First World War, embroidery was used as an auxiliary method of treating PTSD in soldiers.
One of the famous examples was the English actor Ernest Tesinger, who received a serious injury to his hands – handicrafts helped him to return to his former life.
Tesinger subsequently launched sewing kits for soldiers with similar injuries to help them recover from physical and mental wounds, and to provide a small but small income.
The company was named Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry, and customers were from the middle class to the aristocracy and even the royal family.
The result looked really beautiful and convincing: the soldiers were not afraid to tackle the smallest and most intricate designs – and the fruits of their work were presented at international exhibitions and still adorn some historical monuments (including St. Paul’s Cathedral in London).
Another example from history illustrating the influence of creativity on maintaining morale was South African anti-apartheid activist Ruth First.
In 1963, a woman was repressed by the government and imprisoned in solitary confinement for 117 days. According to Claire Hunter, author of Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle, embroidery helped her take control of time.
The woman counted the days, embroidering a black line on the back of her robe every day, crossing them every six days. Sometimes First caught up with time, embroidering lines after the fact after a few days, and sometimes, on the contrary, came back.
“She was denied writing materials, so this simple handicraft, hidden from prying eyes, was a small act of rebellion against the loss of freedom,” – says the writer.
Research to date shows that being creative has a direct impact on our mental health.
For example, in 2018, researchers at the University of Minnesota gathered about seven hundred teenagers, asking them to engage in a variety of creative practices for thirteen days, documenting their experiences in a separate diary.
Scientists published the result of their work in the Journal of Positive Psychology – it turned out that in the days when the study participants were engaged in creativity, their “positive affectivity” (in simple terms, good mood) was much higher than usual.
If we talk about some specific practices, then, according to British scientists, avid knitters are much more likely to feel happy and peaceful, which affects their cognitive function, as well as communication with others.
Working with clay can also effectively relieve situational stress, says University of Arcadia researcher Stephen Robbins.
In addition, the authors of The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature, published in the American Journal of Public Health, argue that “creative engagement can help reduce stress and depression, and serve as a means of alleviating the burden of chronic disease. “
According to the authors, art significantly affects the level of anxiety, and in some cases can even relieve pain: in the studies they studied, it is said that sometimes the use of art therapy in hospitals can shorten the length of a patient’s stay in the hospital.
In addition, some patients who underwent surgery or were critically ill in intensive care felt less need for pain relievers if a painting or a picture of a beautiful landscape adorned the wall next to their bed.
In addition, scientists have noted tactile practices like ceramics as an effective means of expressing feelings and bringing unconscious experiences to the surface.
Maria became interested in ceramics in the summer of 2020 – according to her, it was a difficult time in her life: she lost her favorite job and a permanent source of income, her dad died in an accident – the lockdown and the pandemic that unfolded in the world added fuel to the fire.
According to Maria, she felt overwhelmed and lost confidence in herself. Ceramics helped her to restore her former joy to life. “When the former calm and cloudless life fell apart, it was ceramics that gave me back the feeling of control.
Under the strict guidance of the master, you can do whatever you want with clay – and until the product has been fired, almost any mistake can be corrected. You can stick back the broken piece, wipe the scratch or unevenness, erase the imperfectly drawn line of underglaze paint with a sponge and paint again.
It is very helpful in dealing with anxiety and self-doubt. For three hours on Saturdays, I fell out of reality, the process completely absorbed me. Nice and interesting people came to the classes, music played in the workshop, there was fruit and sometimes even wine, and while communicating and sculpting, I could forget for a while about everything that happened to me, which haunted me day after day.
I felt a great satisfaction that I, a person without art education, can just like that already at the first lesson from the mud of raw clay to create a plate in which you can then serve real food. It was a delight. Meeting me from the first lesson, my partner did not fail to note that my eyes were burning and I was smiling, ”she says.
According to Maria, the new hobby influenced not only her, but also those around her: her partner began to draw more, and her daughter showed interest in modeling, and now they have a corner for creativity at home, where they spend time together. “Ceramics by itself did not bring me out of depression – it was mostly psychotherapy that did it.
But pottery gave me some kind of positive reinforcement and faith in myself, brought back pleasure to life, a thirst to create something real, expectation of a miracle and anticipation – what will the products be like when they return from firing? ” – she notes.
Psychologists, as a rule, explain the positive effect of needlework on stress and anxiety disorders by the fact that this activity provides a relatively quick and visual result of the invested effort – this greatly increases our self-esteem, and anxiety fades into the background.
“The benefits of handicraft, in my opinion, consist of several components: first, it is an activity that brings pleasure and can turn our attention (at least in part); secondly, handicraft is an understandable process that has an end result, and this helps very well to cope with the feeling of uncertainty.
Also, a person’s sense of guilt decreases due to the fact that he allegedly “does nothing” in the current period of his life.
In addition, concentration of attention during painstaking and monotonous work carries elements of “mindfulness” (mindfulness techniques are also recommended for reducing stress). But with all the obvious advantages of handicraft, this cannot be an independent method of treating various disorders (including PTSD), but it can be a good addition as a resource activity and a way to reduce anxiety and a sense of uncertainty, ”says a clinical psychologist.
Handicraft works well for relieving situational anxiety, although it cannot be a panacea for dealing with trauma. “This is a much more complex process, since everyone has individual mechanisms for coping with painful memories.
Needlework is a good auxiliary tool in trauma treatment, but it is important to remember that it will not replace talking with loved ones and professional help, if needed, ”she notes.
Our life is still only vaguely reminiscent of the previous one, and it is absolutely normal to worry about this, even if from the outside it seems that the world is slowly returning to its former course.
And if you believe that creativity will really help you regain control over your emotions and calm anxiety, then when, if not now, remember a long-forgotten hobby or find a new activity to your liking?
The main thing is to remember that if you are feeling really bad, it is probably best to see a professional therapist.