Sunday 24 January 2021

Nerd Church - What's Behind the Covid Arts and Crafts Boom?

(Warning: this post discusses mental health problems, especially Depression and Anxiety, and the Covid 19/Coronavirus pandemic)

I've always been an artsy, craftsy, sort of person.

I'm one of these people who can never name their hobbies when asked, but actually has somehow accumulated so many hobbies that she can't physically fit them all in to her timetable.

(Part of the solution to that is to make some of your hobbies into your employment, but that brings its own challenges.)

And most of those hobbies are creative in some way.

So yeah, I'm a big fan of the arts and crafts!

'What's Behind The Covid Arts and Crafts Boom?' with yarn and knitting needles in the background

The pandemic and its various Lockdowns has seen an arts and crafts boom here in the UK.

Hobbycraft, one of the UK's biggest craft firms, has been taking it all the way to the bank since Lockdown 1.

And I have no idea what people's sudden obssession with sourdough and banana bread is/was. (But maybe that's because me + cooking = disaster.)

What I wanna know is: why?

Why is there this sudden boom in people getting all hands-on and artisanal?

Is it just because people have more time to pick up old hobbies, or try out something they've always wanted to do?

Obviously, the simple increase in home-based leisure-time (when a lot of people would normally be going out to clubs, pubs, cinemas, theatres, social groups, etc.,) is gonna be a factor.

But I think there's other stuff going on here too.

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health, psyschology, sociology, neurology, or medical professional. 

I am a nerd with excellent research skills (#TellingItLikeItIs) and personal experience of Depression and Anxiety.

Please, seek help from a professional when needed!

First off is the nostalgia factor, ofc.

Hooman beans have a tendency to go for nostalgia in times of trouble as a way of feeling safe.

Arts and crafts play to this in two ways: reminding us of childhood craft sessions like at school or home or clubs or whatever, and also harking back to a pre-digital world.

When we're scared or uncertain, we all turn into some weird hybrid toddler-hipsters. (And there's nothing wrong with that! 😅)

There's also an element of survival instinct: if we can make stuff, we can make a living.

On a practical level, if you're one of those people who like cooking, you can also feed yourself. If you like textiles (hi!) you can keep warm.

There's something in our brains that likes feeling useful and in control - more capable of survival - in a situation where we feel powerless.

Artsy and craftsy stuff has long been noted for helping with mental health problems - especially Anxiety-like symptoms.

Often artsy and craftsy things require concentration - but can be tailored to the level of concentration that the person involved can cope with - which, in my own experience, lets me keep the Anxiety-tendency part of my brain busy enough to stop it spiralling.

A lot of crafts are also somewhat repetitive, which can provide a soothing rhythm, etc.*

*That's not me belittling it - it's me being unable to finish the sentence adequately 😅

The word 'artsy' changing colours
Via Giphy

It's not just Anxiety - craft has been shown to aid the wellbeing of people dealing with all sorts of mental (and some physical, especially neurological) health problems.

But while I applaud anyone who does something which works for them as self-care - we're all individuals, after all - I'm slightly concerned at the lack of scientific interest in this area.

Science is supposed to ask questions, right? Like - 'this thing works - why?' Or 'are we sure this thing works?'

A lot of the evidence for arts and crafts improving wellbeing is understandably anecdotal - and obviously that doesn't automatically invalidate it, because like all things relating to general wellbeing, it's intensely personal.

But there's a distinct lack of study in the 'what' here (i.e. can we prove this thing works?) let alone the 'why.' 

It's weird, imho, that you can professionally train to be an art therapist in a world where, while there is definite potential using art to promote wellbeing, one study in 2018 stated that:

'The dearth of quantitative peer-reviewed articles in this area hinders the further development of arts for health improvement within primary care.'

(Also, if someone could explain to me what art therapists actually do in a way that defines it more clearly than the buzzword-strewn definition on the British Association of Art Therapists website, that would be great.)

I'm not saying that art and craft can't be essential in helping you cope with a whole range of illnesses - 

there have been days where all I could seem to physically do was cry and make greetings cards, and those greetings cards were the only tether I had.

So I know that art and craft can be vital.

I guess I just expect the medical profession - preoccupied as it often seems with proving efficacy and measuring outcomes - to take more of an interest in understanding wtf is going on here.

But as no-one has yet put me in charge of instructing scientists on which studies to carry out (dammit!) I'll just have to stick with my own tried-and-tested approach: self-care is doing what's right for you!

If doing artsy, craftsy, creative stuff makes YOU feel better, helps YOU relax, or is simply enjoyable for YOU, then keep going!

'Shameless Self-Care' with a bunch of hearts floating around
Via Giphy

And if you have a limited budget, remember it doesn't always have to involve expensive materials - recycling is a crafter's best friend!

If you can - and I totally understand if you can't, craft materials can be scary-expensive - try to support small businesses.

I know shopping ethically can be a metaphorical minefield

 - wool isn't vegan (I'm not vegan, just veggie, and I have no problem with natural wool, since shearing is vital for sheep health, but I respect that for many vegans this isn't acceptable,) but most affordable alternatives are plastic-based -  

but when sheep farmers are unable to make money from wool in the middle of a craft boom, there's something seriously wrong with the supply chain.

Take care everyone!

Sources & all that jazz:

‘Artlift’ arts-on-referral intervention in UK primary care: updated findings from an ongoing observational study - European Journal of Public Health

Arts and Crafts Are Experiencing Surge in Popularity Amid COVID-19

Coronavirus: Lockdown arts and crafts boom sees firm's online sales triple

Coronavirus: Sheep wool 'barely worth selling any more'

Crafts Like Cross-Stitch and Weaving Are Helping Relieve Anxiety During the Pandemic

Are you a craftsy type of person?
Why do you think crafts are good for general wellbeing?
Talk to me! 😉💬

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  1. I'm not too crafty, but I do knit sometimes and I enjoy baking. I think for me, doing these activities allows me to pass time when I am just sick of looking at a screen. I cannot watch ten episodes of a tv show during a day, and doing these other things gives me a hobby during a very boring time, without having to get a headache looking at a screen.

    1. Ha, I usually have to be doing at least two things at once, so I'll watch TV *while* knitting or weaving or cardmaking or whatever! (Oops!) XD

  2. I wouldn't consider myself crafty, but I do agree that the pandemic has given us time to explore our passions more. I've been reading way more than usual and also cooking a ton of new recipes!

    1. Me and cooking are not friends - the microwave is the way forward! Lol. Still, I reckon cooking counts as artsy-craftsy-ness! :)


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