Your Brain on Crafting: 5 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits of Making

Your Brain on Crafting: 5 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits of MakingAs makers, we can attest to the transformative power of working with art. If you've ever fully engaged in a creative task like crafting, you might agree there’s something undeniably powerful about this practice.

And now, neuroscientists are also adding their voice to the mix.  Over the past few years, study after study has proved something artists and makers have long known to be true: Stimulating the creative part of your brain by making art can have substantial, long-lasting benefits.

"There's promising evidence coming out to support [the idea] that creating -- whether it be through art, music, cooking, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography [or] cake decorating -- is beneficial to us in a number of important ways," said clinical neurophsychologist Catherine Carey Levisay in a recent interview with CNN Health.

What are these benefits? Below, we've complied five ways crafting can help improve your mental health, as well as simple ways for anyone to get involved.

Your Brain on Crafting: 5 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits of Making
Dopamine is a well-studied neurotransmitter that's released by the reward center of your brain, and is known to be a natural anti-depressant. A March 2007 Archives of General Psychiatry article, by Boadie Dunlop MD and Charles Nemerof MD, PhD, points to numerous studies that "support the hypothesis that major depression is associated with a state of reduced dopamine transmission." On the flip side, increased levels of dopamine help reduce depression and anxiety.

Crafting -- whether it's knitting, painting, or making a card by hand-- helps to stimulate dopamine production not only when you're actively engaged in the creative process, but also upon completion or when you receive praise on your project. The feeling of accomplishment is a gift that keeps on giving.

Your Brain on Crafting: 5 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits of MakingSelf-efficacy is defined as the extent of people's belief in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. Psychologists believe a strong sense of sense-efficacy can help us approach new challenges with confidence and overcome the disappointments that we face along the way.

Crafting, according to Levisay, is a way to increase our self-efficacy. So even though you might think your recent home décor project is just going to make your living space look better, it may actually give you that push you need to ace your next major work task.

Your Brain on Crafting: 5 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits of MakingCrafting can help protect your brain against the effects of aging. A study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences looked at a sample of 1,321 participants from the ages of 70-89 and found that activities such as crafting were associated with decreased odds of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In fact, these activities could reduce an individual's chances of developing MCI by 30 to 50%, according to the 2011 study, helping to ward off diseases such as dementia. We say: The earlier you start, the better off you'll be.

Your Brain on Crafting: 5 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits of MakingIn his famous 2004 TED Talk, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first introduced the global audience to the concept of flow, a research-backed phenomenon that he says is the secret to happiness.

“When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life” he explained. “You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”

This all-encompassing feeling and the overall effects of flow have been likened to the many proven mental health benefits of meditation, including stress and inflammation reduction. Other studies, like the 2007 paper, “The Neurological Basis of Occupation,” have shown creative activities such as knitting, painting, cutting and pasting, and more can elicit flow, which in turn can offer a non-pharmaceutical way to help you keep negative emotions and irrational thoughts in check. Think of crafting like a cool glass of water on a hot summer day.

Your Brain on Crafting: 5 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits of MakingMost people who enjoy crafting, also enjoy sharing their labor of love with others. Whether you knit a scarf to donate to a shelter, make a card to cheer up a friend, or even create a decorative frame as a house-warming present, crafting for the purpose of gift-giving can make you happy. Researchers Elizabeth Dunn and Stephen Post studied the results of donating one's time, energy and  money on others and found that not only do people find much satisfaction and joy in doing these things, but that they also receive measurable overall health benefits. It's a win-win.

How to Get Involved

There are a slew of simple ways to get started with crafting. It's important to remember that the benefits mentioned above can only come from engaging yourself in the things you enjoy. If painting is your thing, do that. If you've always wanted to learn to quilt, sign up for a class. Or try something you've never done before and see if you discover a new love there. Here are a few of our suggestions:

  • To achieve a zen-like state, try a coloring book: One simple and easy way to get your creative juices flowing is to give adult coloring books a try. Although coloring isn't the same as enrolling in art therapy sessions, many experts do agree there are still many benefits to be had from this activity."Coloring definitely has therapeutic potential to reduce anxiety, create focus or bring [about] more mindfulness," according to Marygrace Berbian, a certified art therapist and the Clinical Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for the Graduate Art Therapy at NYU.
  • For instant happiness, make a card: Instead of buying flowers for that ill co-worker, or taking out your recently-single and heartbroken friend, make a handmade card. The thoughtfulness and effort will not only lift their spirits, it will also make you feel good when you see the smile on their face.

With so many benefits to gain, why wouldn't you want to give crafting a go?

Let us know: What are you going to craft up today?

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7 thoughts on “Your Brain on Crafting: 5 Amazing Science-Backed Benefits of Making”

  • Barbara

    Great info. Now I know why if feel so bad when I have that crafting block and can't get motivated. Do they know a cure for that?? Ha Ha.

  • Jackie Hutshing
    Jackie Hutshing Jul 07, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    I'm 89 and just discovered card making. Love color, embossing and die cutting cutting. Made some post it note holders for my domino
    group and they loved them. Also into bookmarks and intend to make some coasters for my friends, as well.
    Am taking baby steps because of costs but meanwhile I'm thoroughly enjoying all the tutorials and resources at hand.
    Thank all of you crafters for your wonderful ideas.

  • Rose Fenway

    Enjoyed this article. It even backs up my feelings of sending hope as I reach out to those who need a caring card. I feel dèeply that crafting cards is a way to spread kindness and caring. Now there are benefits to the brain, that is a great bonus and my heart has improved while sending cards too!

  • Robyn Turnbull
    Robyn Turnbull Jul 08, 2016 at 07:42 am

    I make birthday cards for folks at the assisted living home nearby. The Activity director was delighted to have me do this and willingly gave me names of those who had little communication from friends or family. I get a birthday list every month and deliver the card in person. Talk about feeling happy!

  • Bonnie E.

    HAH! I knew there were health benefits to crafting. Compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma have been big topics about employee health at work for the last number of years - and as a personal focus for myself, and my own work-life balance, I have focused on what makes me more balanced, at peace, and happy. That has been crafting. Thanks for providing more evidence for that!

  • Sue lubin

    I like everyone in this blog love to craft and give. I go through phases of which crafts I work on. I crochet, knit, quilt, scrapbook, and make cards. I give appliquéd quilts to newborn babie, send card to my friends and family, have crocheted throws for my children and friends, and donated many handmade items to victims of Sandy.

  • Cheryl Stone

    I started making Christmas cards last year. I loved how they came out, and got many compliments. Since then, I just love buying card supplies and feel a joyous enthusiasm that I, frankly, did not have before. True article.

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