My name is Jane Hurst. I have a PhD, am a black belt and school owner in a Korean martial art, and am an award winning author. I also suffer from a significant anxiety disorder. Other than my close friends, most people would be surprised by this, as to the world I appear to be a successful and confident woman.
Through years of therapy, hard work and medication, I am able to manage my anxiety reasonably well. However, it is always there, never far from the surface. New places, people and activities make me anxious and I often find myself well outside my comfort zone. This was particularly the case when I recently attended a weekend of crafting workshops.
I have never been very practical and am a novice when it comes to crafting. However, I thought it would be a good experience to try something new and I am glad that I did. I have not only learned new skills, but I have also learned a lot about myself. Here are some of my personal reflections on the powerful and positive influence crafting can have on anxiety sufferers.
Self-doubt and fear
The first workshop I attended involved using acrylic paints to decorate a canvas case. I immediately felt my heart beat faster. I started to get very hot and my hands were shaking. I was afraid and panicky, fearing that I would make a complete mess of the project.
I was immediately reminded of a long forgotten childhood memory where I was in a bike decorating competition at my local school. I spent most of the hour available too panicked to do anything. It was an excruciatingly painful experience. Since this time, self-doubt and fear have held me back me from trying many new things.
This realisation was very powerful. I am no longer a child and I have many skills to help me cope with attacks of anxiety. I focused on my breathing, listened to the tutor’s instructions, and asked for help and guidance from those around me. Most of all, I remembered that I was there to learn and have fun. It didn’t matter how my project turned out. This calmed me and I found myself enjoying not only this workshop, but the other five I attended during the course of the long weekend.
Learning any new skill inevitably involves making mistakes and I made plenty at the workshops I attended. This is hard for someone like me, as I am a perfectionist. At the first workshop, we used acrylic paint applied with stencils to add patterns. My attempts were mixed. Quite a few came out looking like blobs rather than nice patterns. Before I knew it, the negative chatter had started in my head. I was useless and couldn’t do anything right, at least that was what my brain was telling me.
I am my harshest critic and this underlies much of the anxiety I experience. During this workshop though, something amazing happened to me. I stepped back and looked at what I had produced and felt pride. Instead of looking at the flaws and imperfections, I saw how the colours matched well and how what I had perceived as mistakes actually made it look interesting.
Crafting requires us to embrace the imperfections. If we wanted something that was perfectly made, we would buy a mass produced product from a shop. We craft for the enjoyment of making something ourselves and it is the imperfections that make our crafts special and unique.
We will always make mistakes, especially when we are learning a new skill. Instead of focusing on my failings or mistakes, during the course of the weekend I found I was becoming much more compassionate with myself. Here I was doing something new, that was well outside my comfort zone, and I was enjoying the experience.
My career involves a lot of writing. As a professional business writer, I spend a lot of time focusing on the thoughts in my head. It can be difficult to switch off those thoughts, especially when I am feeling anxious. My mind gets full of worries, which make me anxious.
During the crafting workshops I had to completely focus on the project I was doing. It encouraged me to be in the moment. By closely listening to and diligently following the tutor’s instructions, my mind was only focused on one thing at any one time. This made it a very mindful experience for me. I was fully present in each moment and let go of the negative judgments about myself and my ability. I found the crafting really lifted my mood and calmed my mind. It felt great!
The power of creative expression
My crafting experience has really shown me the power of creativity as a way of managing my anxiety. I don’t have to be a great artist or a skilled craftsman. The simple act of making something with my own hands has a powerful and positive effect on my mental health and wellbeing. I know I will never be “cured” and that anxiety is with me for life, but I have found a new and enjoyable way to minimise its impact. Crafting has now been added to my toolbox of skills to keep myself well. Best of all, it’s fun to do!
Thanks Natalie May for your wonderful instruction.
Contextual Behavioural Therapist
Copyright © CBT West™ Pukekohe. All Rights Reserved
I ran my first craft group in the early nineties for mothers who were suffering from post-natal depression. These were mother and baby groups and the women found them very beneficial. Not only did they gain much needed mutual support, the crafting also significantly lifted their mood and relieved stress.
Over the years, I have run quite a few creative groups. I have consistently found that when people get in touch with their creative sides, particularly in a group environment, their mental health also improves.
With the popularisation of mindfulness and mindful activities, like the mindful colouring books sold all around the world, there is an increasing desire to get back to some old fashioned hands-on activities, which don’t involve a computer, iPad, smart phone or some social media platform.
Crafting provides the benefits of mindfulness, while also adding the additional benefit of creative expression. Creativity can be expressed in many different shapes and forms such as through cooking, knitting, drawing, cake decorating, scrapbooking, card making other paper crafts, photography, art, music, writing, and even doing crossword puzzles. Other ways include lino cutting, pottery, silk painting, sewing, origami, paper cutting, needle felting, embroidery, and making jewellery.
Crafting can improve mental and physical health in many ways;
If you are new to crafting, choosing something that is relatively cheap to start with, will help you to find a creative hobby that makes you feel better. Visit the library for books to give you inspiration or your local craft shop where you can buy a beginners kit.
Craft groups are particularly beneficial for people who are feeling isolated or lonely. People are becoming increasingly isolated from others by the technology in front of them. When was the last time you actually visited or had a coffee with a friend? Do you text or catch up on Facebook more? Isolation is playing a big part in the increasing rates of depression. What better way to help yourself than to join a group of like minded people who love to be creative?
If you are well enough, an evening class, a weekend craft group, or even your local Women’s institute may offer not only technical support and guidance, but also social contact and companionship. If your not well enough to join a local group in the community, then doing a small therapeutic craft group might be more beneficial to get you started
In my experience as a lifelong crafter, I will always go of to my craft room when I am stressed, need a boost or just want to have fun and do something that I love. A hobby is something that is supposed to be enjoyable. Crafting is a very enjoyable hobby and has the added benefit of being good for my mental health and wellbeing. Maybe it could help you as well?
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), is often associated with treatment for anxiety and depression. However, it has a much broader relevance and is particularly useful for those suffering from chronic pain.
ACT is a contextual behavioural therapy, which places psychological flexibility at the core of healthy emotional functioning. It does this by encouraging clients to take values-guided action, grounded in actual experience, to inspire behavioural change.
ACT teaches ways to stop paying attention to troubling thoughts, so that a person can create and live a rich, full and meaningful life guided by values, while also accepting the pain that is inevitably part of life. It recognises that we all experience illness, physical pain, frustrations, loss and failure, no matter how good our life may be. Using ACT principles and tools, enables a person to realise that they can let go of troubling thoughts and emotions, rather than hold on so tightly that they give up.
The basic premise of ACT, as it relates to chronic pain, is that while pain hurts, it is the struggle with pain that causes suffering. ACT encourages a values-based change in perspective and promotes a more flexible approach to life. While a person may not be able to remove the pain, they can think and act differently to enable them to live a richer and more meaningful life, while accepting that pain is part of their life.
An ACT therapist uses a number of techniques when working with a person suffering from chronic pain. These include:
Encouraging the client to accept that while pain is part of their life, it does not define it. This involves the client taking a step back and looking at their life and thoughts from a different perspective. By simply observing their life and the way their mind interprets it, they give themselves the space and opportunity to think about it in a different way. Acceptance of pain also reduces its intensity.
Understanding and changing the underlying rules that the client lives by. Often we impose rules on ourselves which cause us to become stuck in the struggle of constant negative thinking and action. If a client can identify the unhelpful rules which govern their thinking and belief systems, they can find ways to change them. This is particularly helpful for people suffering with chronic pain who may believe for example, that they need to overcome or work through their pain, when instead they could give themselves permission to rest or do less.
Working with the client to identify their values, which provide the direction or compass for daily life. By understanding and living each day according to clear values, the client is able to live a life beyond a narrow focus on symptom management.
Developing present-moment awareness by the practice of mindfulness. This encourages the client to consciously focus on each moment in an expansive way, while gently letting go of judgement and negative thoughts or worries. For those suffering with pain, present-moment awareness encourages a broadening beyond a narrow focus on pain, to include an awareness of the wider world around them in each current moment.
Encouraging committed action by finding the actions and activities that work for the client and that are in accordance with the client’s values. For example, taking medication or having a day in bed may sometimes be the best thing a client can do.
While chronic pain can be debilitating, ACT based therapy can relieve some of the suffering. This enables a person to live a richer, more meaningful and value-based life.
1 Dahl & Lundgren. Acceptance and commitment therapy in the treatment of chronic pain. University of Uppsala, Sweden
2 Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Stoddard, J.A., & Afari, N. (2014) The big book of ACT metaphors. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Contextual Behavioural Therapist
Copyright © CBT West™ Pukekohe. All Rights Reserved
Caroline is a Registered Mental Health Nurse specialising in CBT, ACT & DBT therapies. Caroline uses a skills based approach for treating anxiety and depression, managing chronic pain and illness, and working with those who want to focus on professional and personal development.