Our ancestors have been creating things for millennia, making tools and dwellings, and drawing hands or animals on cave walls. Now people everywhere are turning to crafting as a coping mechanism during COVID-19. They believe creativity is helping them find more happiness. And science suggests they may be right.
According to recent research from Mental Health America (MHA), nearly 50 million American adults experienced mental illness even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a growing percentage of young people are now living with major depression. On top of this, the long-term impact of the sudden and dramatic changes to our lifestyle brought on by COVID-19 is still emerging. The science is clear that prolonged social isolation has detrimental effects on humans (and their brains), and there is potential for lasting damage to our mental health.
However many in the scientific community also increasingly believe using creativity and imagination can help us find “our identity and our reservoir of healing,” even during these most difficult of times.
Creativity supports individual mental health
According to research from the Association for Creative Industries, the crafting and DIY industry is worth $36 billion. A number of nimble startups and established companies were well-placed to support this growing consumer interest during the unprecedented lockdown. Cricut, which offers a connected platform to nearly 5 million makers worldwide, successfully completed its $322 million IPO in 2021.
A recent study of its creators found 84% reported that engaging in creative projects supports their emotional well-being. Cricut creator Keionna Baker, a mental health professional who turned to crafting as a way to cope with the sudden death of her mother, describes herself as “not creative at all.” She now makes handmade cards, tumblers, and other personalized objects and began to incorporate crafting into her therapy practice. Baker even started a craft therapy group with nightly open Zoom sessions to help others.
Abigail Carrillo, a Cricut product expert, explains that she was searching for something she could do to feel better while recovering from postpartum depression. “I wanted to escape my thoughts,” she admits, “Through crafting, I was able to replace negative thoughts with positive ones as I occupied my mind with the endless ideas I could do.”
A growing body of research indicates that crafting activities, such as knitting, quilting, playing games, and reading books can be associated with a 30% to 50% reduction in the chances of developing mild-cognitive impairment (MCI) when aging.
The global pandemic has clearly amplified interest in making things, both as a hobby and increasingly as a full-blown side hustle. Both my brother (leatherwork) and father-in-law (driftwood sculptures) started creating and selling beautiful items during lockdown for the first time.
What 2022 holds for our creativity
Unlike many overly optimistic outpourings on the eve of 2021, we are coming to terms with COVID as a constant for the foreseeable future. (Expect fewer “things are going to be way better next year” tweets in your stream this year.) So while it is easy to dismiss custom charcuterie boards and upcycled thrift-store finds as a fleeting phenomenon, I believe there is a deeper, urgent need for togetherness emerging and underpinning this new wave of creativity.
The Royal Society for Health found that 67% of people working from home feel less connected to their colleagues, and 56% find it harder to switch off. On the plus side, just look at how the global science community pulled together in creative new ways. More than 200 clinical trials brought hospitals and laboratories together all around the globe for the first time.
Finding some light amid the darkness is hard, but I sincerely hope the growing emphasis on sharing, community, and bringing inspiration to people’s lives through new creative outlets can be a beautiful result of an incredibly difficult time.
Geraint Evans, PhD is an executive career coach and the author of Do One Thing.