Art and craft have long been praised for their calming qualities, but studies are beginning to prove what many of us have long suspected – crafting truly is medicinal.
One such study, published by University College London’s MARCH mental health network found that engaging with the visual arts can reduce anxiety and that visiting museums can protect against the development of dementia.
Anthropologist Stephanie Bunn studies how the spatial and gestural aspects of basketry are helpful during patient recovery. During the research period, she commented, “In the case of stroke recovery, which I’ve been studying at Raigmore Hospital Inverness, basketwork can re-establish neural pathways and improve brain plasticity”.
In terms of mental health, activities such as baking, knitting and gardening all seem to share the anti-anxiety effect. The effort, multi-sensory engagement, repetitive actions and anticipation of satisfaction involved in craft are linked to the release of serotonin and the simultaneous reduction of cortisol.
There are many groups throughout the UK which have taken advantage of the benefits of craft and formed ‘crafting clubs’ to heal and bring people together. Members from one such group, Woolly Wellbeing in Liverpool, say that participating in knitting and crocheting classes with the group has alleviated symptoms of social anxiety and depression, and provided a sense of belonging.
According to the Crafts Council, craft courses have been prescribed to patients since the dawn of occupational therapy in the late 19th century, with basket making used to relieve anxiety and physical ailments in soldiers during World War I.
Today, prescribed craft therapy is provided by groups such as Combat Stress which supports British Armed Forces veterans battle complex mental health issues, such as PTSD and depression, through pottery.
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