WASHINGTON — When Girija Kaimal is feeling anxious, she often turns to crochet or fabric work to bring herself a sense of calm.
“I have certain patterns I love to do,” she says, “and it just reinforces for me that all is well in the world, and I can still contribute to it in a meaningful way.”
Kaimal is president of the American Art Therapy Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia, and believes in the mental health benefits of getting creative.
Many people have leaned into crafting, from knitting to beading to adult coloring books, during the pandemic. The stresses of the past two years have taken an emotional toll on Americans of all ages.
“A lot of crafts also have a kind of repetitive, meditative quality to them that can be very soothing,” says Carolyn Mehlomakulu, an art therapist who runs a blog called Creativity in Therapy.
Crafting can be anything that activates our creative impulses, from gardening to cooking to collage-making, says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, a Harvard Medical School faculty member and founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing in Brookline, Massachusetts.
“Any activity that engages our imagination, puts us in the moment, and allows us to bring forth something beautiful, provocative or compelling counts,” he says.
What’s more, there is always time to craft — even during the workday.
“This may be knitting on your lunch break, or collaging while listening in on a Zoom call,” says Essence Jackson-Jones of Imani Wellness Art & Healing in Chicago.
How do you find the craft that’s right for you?
It depends on the person, and what makes them feel relaxed and in control. For some, that means learning something new. For others, it means falling back into something familiar.
“You can kind of feel it out,” suggests Caroline Tye of Dandelion Art Therapy in Chicago. “Does coloring feel good? Do watercolors feel more relaxing, or does it feel too out of control and you’d rather use a pen and paper? You have to play around with what feels good with you in that moment. It can shift and change all the time, too.”
And don’t worry about whether you are a “good” artist.
“Whatever you do, whatever you create is fine,” says Mehlomakulu. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try to talk kindly to yourself. Remind yourself that it’s OK for it to be challenging when you’re learning something new, and to stick with it and not give up on it… Try to just enjoy the process and have fun with it.”
YouTube has thousands of how-to videos on everything from drawing to knitting to sewing.
“We’re all artists,” Tye says. “Jump into it and you will increase your ability to see you’re actually good at it.”
–By MOLLY SPRAYREGEN Associated Press