While the quantity of research on how arts, crafts, and creative activities affect the brain in a healing capacity is limited, there is no doubt that the underpinnings of therapy are present. People who use crafting to help quell their anxiety, stress, depression, or even physical pain are essentially repairing the neural pathways in their brains, which also helps slow down age-related illness.
When people partake in their favorite mental activities, whether that be puzzle-solving or creative expression, they are using their brains differently than in normal day-to-day tasks. They aren’t necessarily thinking less, they are thinking more effortlessly. The brain goes into a sort of trance when it is doing an activity that the person actually enjoys and embraces.
The carrot at the end of the stick is not just survival or the end of work, it is the entirety of the activity itself that is the carrot, which puts the brain into a state of calm, similar to meditation.
Challenging, but not Stressful
What sets arts and crafts apart from other activities that also engage the brain is that you aren’t racing against a clock, measuring your performance, or following rigid instructions. These constructs limit the way the brain makes new connections in the brain. When a person is engaging in a creative activity, they are embracing any challenges in that space with enthusiasm and are able to naturally focus their energy into that moment. This is why it is so easy for time to fly when you are caught up in your artwork.
This is what all teachers and life coaches like to see in people who are dealing with depression, uncertainty, and who normally spend all their time working or thinking about work, for example. A great hobby is something that gives you purpose, passion, and energy. These feelings aren’t imaginary, they are products of the brain’s chemical reactions and neural activity.
While scientists may not have a complete understanding of how crafting heals and repairs our bodies, they can observe how it changes the levels of the chemicals released by the brain. The most prominent increase in chemical activity is, of course, dopamine. This is your “feel good” drug that is associated with many different stimuli: sex, achievements, eating, and compliments, to name a few. When we are engaged in a craft that we are proud of, having fun with, and feel free to express ourselves with, our brains are constantly rewarding with the steady release of dopamine.
This release of dopamine is often sought through different addictions, but the big difference between an addiction of your art and an addiction to gambling, drugs, or sex is that you are the sole supplier of the necessary devices to trigger that release of dopamine, you are the dealer, which means no plateauing, cold streaks, or cut-offs of what makes you feel good.
Reversing and Preventing Aging
Ultimately, doing what brings you joy and purpose in life, without conditions or restrictions, is what scientists and health experts would call the Fountain of Youth. Crafting activities engage the brain in a way that actively works against degenerative diseases, like dementia or Alzheimer’s. It is estimated that over 35 million people suffer from some form of dementia, and that number is only going to increase. While modern medicine is making great strides, we must not overlook the deceptively simple, but effective means of alternative healing, which some consider it as a the healing of the mind, body, and soul.
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