For me, the thought of crafting evokes memories of a simpler time. When I think of the word, I see my elementary school self making holiday decorations in class, sculpting clay charms and hunching over my Rainbow Loom. While I cherish all my messy creations from that period of life, I’ve mostly given up my crafting habits — until recently.
A couple weeks ago, I took the college student’s route and decided to make decor for my apartment rather than buy it. The most I expected to gain from the experience was a few paintings, but I ended up with much more. From the moment I began filling in the canvas to the moment I set down my brushes, my body overflowed with newfound energy and excitement. For the first time in a long time, I created something on my own terms, and it was beyond satisfying.
As it turns out, there are several reasons why all of us should craft from time to time. More than a simple childhood activity, crafting is a highly beneficial pursuit that everyone can enjoy.
For starters, crafting is good for our brains. In a 2013 survey by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, researchers found that frequent knitters reported greater feelings of calm and improved interaction with others. This group, compared to occasional knitters, also showed signs of higher cognitive functioning.
Although knitting and other textile-based activities are generally female-dominated, the mental health benefits of crafting aren’t gender exclusive. For instance, men who participate in various woodworking activities experience less symptoms of depression, as seen in a study from Occupational Therapy Australia.
Engaging in a stimulating, creative activity also allows us to completely focus on the task at hand. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as flow. In this state, the conscious areas of our brains recede control to the subconscious. As a result of this process, we block out any distractions and use our mind’s resources to their fullest extent. This lets us give our best effort to whatever we’re doing.
Flow is associated with several positive side effects, such as greater emotional fulfillment and happiness. Yet, it’s not just the process which leads to an improved mood, but also the end product. Finishing a repetitive task, such as knitting, enables the release of dopamine, one of the various “feel-good” chemicals involved in a flow state. Because seeing the finished craft provides such a rewarding experience, we feel motivated to continue the behavior in the future.
In addition to inducing a state of flow, crafting is a great way to develop new skills. Every time we use our hands for crafting, areas of our brains are stimulated. The use of precise finger movements helps to hone fine motor skills and improve hand-eye coordination. These abilities aren’t just important for crafting, but they can also be applied to other contexts, such as jobs that require a certain level of dexterity.
Crafting may also slow the process of cognitive decline. Today, over 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2050, that number is expected to more than double, costing the nation upwards of one trillion dollars. Among other stimulating, intellectual exercises, crafting is associated with a lower probability of mild cognitive impairment, which is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s.
You may be thinking all these benefits sound well and good, but who has time to pursue creative endeavors and a degree at the same time? My response is it’s still possible. The beauty of crafting is it can be as simple or as complex as you want. From crocheting a sweater to gluing some googly eyes onto a rock, there is no limit to what you can choose to make.
If you’re looking for a place to craft, look no further than the Crafts Center at NC State. At the Crafts Center, students and the public can participate in a wide range of non-credit crafting workshops and classes, such as clay, photography, and jewelry-making. Each class is also designated based on skill level, so you don’t have to worry about being a complete novice.
Another great resource — and one of my favorite places on campus — is the Makerspace at Hill Library. Here, students can enjoy several creative outlets, such as 3D printing and sticker-making, without the pressure associated with a class or workshop.
As college students with busy and stressful schedules, we could all use a mood booster from time to time. In those moments you need some relief, try crafting — it just might be one the best decisions you ever make.