Want to know how to get out of a bad mood? Try making something.
Crafts can lift you or your child out of a bad mood, reduce anxiety, and melt away stress. In fact, research says even just a few minutes of crafting can reset our mood. Sometimes that’s all we need to keep going. Whether it’s a hard day of work or school or something much more grave, crafts have been shown to help people get out of a bad mood and focus on the positive.
Crafting can reduce stress, help us feel happier, help us deal with negative life events, improve self-esteem and can help people connect with others.
Crafting Reduces Stress and Anxiety
For those feeling stressed or anxious, crafting can provide significant relief. Crafting forces us to slow down and shift our focus. Crafts can allow us to enter an almost meditative state, where our minds and bodies relax. People may—at least for a few moments— be able to forget about the stressors and negative aspects of their lives. This can be particularly true for repetitive activities such as knitting.
“My mind rests doing crafts,” said one 30-year-old participant in a study authored by Sinikka Pöllänen at the University of Eastern Finland. Pöllänen surveyed women who engage in crafts in their leisure time. Overall, she found that crafts, “provided recreation, satisfaction, optimism, positive relationships, and support as well as helped participants to cope with negative feelings.”
“It is a way to ‘clear the head,’” another participant said.
Pöllänen also reported that “All the participants described crafts as a remover of negative emotions.”
The women in the study generally felt their work and home lives inflicted on them a long list of demands and seemingly endless tasks. In contrast, crafting helped them “slow down for a moment.” Pöllänen’s study was not the first or only study to reveal such effects from crafting.
In fact, crafts have been a go-to for occupational therapists, reportedly since the field began. After World War I some soldiers were prescribed basket-weaving as a therapy to help them with both physical and mental impacts from the war, according to the Crafts Council.
Making Crafts Releases Dopamine
While several studies reveal that crafters feel their craft helps reduce stress and anxiety, the evidence is not merely anecdotal. There is also clear scientific evidence that crafting positively impacts our brains and bodies.
“The arts are linked with dopamine release, which encourages cognitive flexibility, and they reduce our risk of dementia,” stated Daisy Fancourt, Ph.D., and author of a mental health study in the U.K., according to the Crafts Council.
Dopamine plays many roles in our brains, helping us to feel pleasure as well as to think and plan. In fact, many mental health disorders are linked to either insufficient or excessive dopamine.
A release of dopamine can help us feel a little happier, and most crafters heartily agree that crafting lifts their spirits. In a study of 3,500 knitters with depression, 81% of them said knitting makes them feel happier.
Arts and Crafts Help with Depression and Illness
For those dealing with a serious illness, depression, or a major negative life event, arts and crafts can provide a positive outlet and improve their overall wellbeing. Creating can help people to express their feelings about things that are troubling or difficult to describe, and they can also give people a chance to simply forget their problems while they are wrapped up in the act of creating.
Crafting helped women in the Finland survey to relieve “feelings of sickness, pain, or sorrow so that the negative feelings would not control their life and visions of the future.” Completing projects and planning future projects gave the women something to look forward to. Some of the women said crafting helped them navigate through difficult periods of their lives, including depression, divorce, and unemployment.
The entire field of art therapy is dedicated to helping people “improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change,” according to the American Art Therapy Association. Art therapy can be beneficial for people of all ages. (Note that actual art therapy is a particular field of therapy that requires a trained specialist, not simply engaging in art.)
Several studies have linked art-making with positive outcomes for cancer patients. Cancer patients were able to focus on positive life experiences, improve their self-worth, find a personal identity outside of their illness, and express their feelings through art, according to an article in the American Journal of Public Health.
In addition to these emotional benefits, some studies also showed that patients engaged in art programs experienced less pain than those that were not, according to the article.
Improve Self-Esteem by Making Something
We’ve all seen the look of pride on a child’s face when they paint something they are really proud of. That sense of pride and accomplishment is not relegated to young children. Older children, adolescents, and adults all feel a sense of pride when they achieve a goal, and there is a special kind of pride we take in creating something tangible.
All of the women in the study in Finland “described how the sense of competence through achieving self-set goals, as well as feedback from others, have been the most important sources of satisfaction” in their craft.
Generally, others praised their work, and when they gave handmade gifts to friends and family, they reported that others received them with special appreciation for the time and skill that went into making them. This even deepened relationships in some cases.
Crafts Connect You with Others or Give You Time to Yourself
For some crafting provides a way to connect with others and form a social group, while for others use crafting as a much-needed solitary solace.
For some, joining a group of crafters provides a needed social outlet with people who share a similar interest. Individuals struggling with social interactions sometimes find craft groups a safe place they can go to be around people without feeling overwhelmed.
On the other hand, for some crafting provides some much needed alone time. The women in Finland generally favored crafting alone over crafting with others.
“For them, crafts provided a quiet space for their own thoughts and reflections. They described crafts warmly as a well-known friend or an integral part of self,” according to the study.
Crafts for Kids: Change Your Child’s Mood with Crafts
While craft activities for kids can provide some important educational benefits such as fine motor skills, spatial reasoning, and persistence, crafts can also offer children many of the emotional benefits they offer adults.
For children, it is not always easy to walk in the door and explain how they are feeling and talk through their problems. So many times, when parents ask their children how their day was, we get a short answer that reveals very little. We can find more creative conversational questions to find out more, but when a child is struggling they may not want to or know how to express it.
If you detect a bad mood in your child and aren’t able to determine the cause, suggest a craft—an easy craft. Sit down with your child, and create something alongside him or her. This time with your child can be meaningful, and your child may begin to open up about their emotions, their fears, their guilt, their hurt feelings, or their frustrations.
They’ll also gain all those benefits already mentioned—pride in their creation, improved self-esteem, a decline in stress and anxiety, and a shift in focus.