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Taking Up a Complex Hobby Can Help The Grieving Process

Added July 29, 2014, Under: Men's Health, Women's Health

tools for patchwork

I worked out this concept myself (back in the 1970s) when I lost my eldest child to leukemia. I decided to learn how to do patchwork and make a brightly colored quilt for my younger son who was only 16 months old at the time.

It was important to me to find a new interest and one that would keep my mind busy and creative. I went to visit an elderly neighbor who did patchwork for a hobby and asked her to help me get started. I found the whole process to be very therapeutic and I still enjoy this craft decades later.

Now I read that I was certainly on the right track at that time as experts say there are at least three benefits when you take up a new craft:

Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain

We can learn more from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (a Professor of Psychology) who has researched and written on the subject.

When you are busy creating something new – and it can be anything from art to music, cooking to sewing, drawing to photography – you can become so completely absorbed in whatever it is that nothing else will matter. Professor Csikszentmihalyi describes this phenomenon as “flow”.

He says: “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life. 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.”

He goes on to explain that our nervous system is only capable of processing a certain amount of information at a time which is why you cannot listen to and understand two people who are talking to you at the same time. So when someone starts creating, their existence outside that activity becomes “temporarily suspended.”

He doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can’t feel if he’s hungry or tired. His body disappears.

Crafting can be a natural anti-depressant

It may also ease stress, increasing happiness by releasing the neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Scientists believe dopamine was originally designed to make us repeat activities that would help the species survive, such as eating and having sex – the reward center in your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine when you do something pleasurable.

But now as time has passed, we have evolved so that our brains can also release dopamine while doing something other than pure survival skills – such as crafting.

Catherine Carey Levisay is a Clinical Neuropsychologist who points out that crafting is unique.

She says “In its ability to involve many different areas of your brain, crafting can work your memory and attention span while involving your visuospatial processing, creative side and problem-solving abilities.”

Crafting and other leisure activities may protect the brain from aging

Scientists are interested in studying leisure activities’ impact on the brain.

They have found that playing games, reading books and crafting could reduce the risks of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30% to 50%. The more stimulating the environment (as you grow older) and the more you can increase the complexity of the brain, the more you can afford to lose. Essentially, you are building a buffer.

Hobbies are a positive way to keep from dwelling on sadness and forming negative patterns. This can be just as important if you worry about aging as it can to those who are coping with grief. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing or that you could learn to enjoy, create time and space for them.

There are so many hobbies and crafts to choose from

If you are short on ideas, check out the many books and specialist magazines in your local bookshop, do a quick search on the internet or take a look at Pinterest which is a virtual pinboard of every hobby or craft under the sun.

It is not only the loss of a loved one through death that can be helped by taking up a complex hobby, those who experience the empty nest syndrome, or the break up of a relationship, can also find this therapeutic.

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