Happy National Craft Month! I didn’t know until recently that March was designated as such, but according to the Association for Creative Industries it has been since 1994, and I for one am delighted. Why? Well, because I am coming around to the conclusion that as fun and lighthearted and not-obviously-essential-to-survival as crafting may be, it’s actually a pretty useful practice for well-being and, for some of us, is a near-perfect form of emotional self care.
In this field, saturated with the stress and disruption of trauma, “self care” gets thrown around almost constantly. We urge our clients to practice it and admonish our colleagues to make time for it -- but we’re not always that specific in what we mean by it. Just about anything that can cut stress, help someone to decompress, or be considered restorative might get thrown under the heading of self care.
So, let’s drill down a little bit into what self care means. The term actually includes both physical and emotional care, and the physical side is important: food, water, sleep, hygiene, exercise and tending to our physical environments are all critical to feeling okay. On the emotional side of things, practices that we can do on our own are called self-soothing. A whole lot falls under the umbrella of self-soothing. Unfortunately, not all self-soothing activities work equally, and some practices can ultimately do us harm. We service providers are pretty familiar with our own tendencies to lean on numbing, escapist types of self-soothing like drinking, overeating or zoning out to addictive media as quick-fix strategies to deal with stress. “Self care!” we cry as we’re finishing off that bottle of wine, defending our indulgence on the basis of our emotionally demanding field.
It’s not that it’s an unreasonable defense -- the point here isn’t to pass judgment. It is rather to point out that we have other options, some with a cost-benefit ratio that may work a little better in the long term. So what makes an activity not just self-soothing in the moment but also, on a deeper level, nurturing to our well-being? What helps us exit a state of emotional overload without inducing numbness? Mindfulness can help, cultivating a state of alert but non-reactive awareness. Sensory engagement can help, grounding us in the present moment in a pleasurable way. Occupying both creative and logical parts of the brain can help, redirecting our focus away from anxious fixation.
Which brings us back to one thing that lends itself to all of the above: crafting. It’s certainly not the only practice that covers multiple bases of self-soothing at once, but it’s a great one to add to your self-care toolkit. Current research even suggests that the health benefits go beyond aiding those of us dealing with trauma exposure.
If you’re ready to spend the rest of the month up to your elbows in craft projects but don’t know where to start, here’s a quick roundup of a few low-budget, entry-level projects that might launch a new, full-blown hobby.
“Calm Down Jar” for adults
Last year, NVRDC staff had a group self-care event to make ourselves these hypnotic objects. Not only is it a calming experience to make them, but you’re left with a visually relaxing item to use for a moment of calm in the future. Check out the short video tutorial here.
Nice weather might be waylaid for the moment, but it’s coming… and when it arrives, here’s a great craft to try outdoors while simultaneously reaping the benefits of a few minutes in the sun.
T-shirt Rag Rugs
If you need to repurpose some t-shirts you never wear into something you might actually use, this tutorial shows you how to make a coaster or trivet while cutting down on clothing clutter.
Also in the “repurposing” category, here’s a how-to on making vivid, glass-like flowers out of plastic cups. Pick up some markers in color combos that speak to your soul and have at it.
Shrinky-dink Charms (pictured in this blog)
Here’s more info on making fun things by shrinking plastic with some step-by-step pointers. Don’t stop there, though; try image-searching “shrinky dink patterns” and see what all the internet has to offer. It’s like coloring pages that you can zap down into wearable charms. Check out another tutorial here going into great detail on this technique with a very classy, very wearable end product. Experiment with lower-budget materials if you don’t want to invest up front in the ink she uses here.
The internet is a bountiful resource for crafting inspiration and learning, so I hope this roundup is only the beginning. Make the most of your craft-month March and enjoy both the process and the product!