It goes without saying that this year has been unlike any other in our lifetime. Due to the pandemic, many of our usual Christmas celebrations and traditions simply won’t be possible.
As I write this, I remember the family gatherings, dinners with friends, office parties and other festivities I took for granted in the past. I miss visiting cosy, bustling pubs in December, full of high spirits, dated decorations and the warming smell of mulled wine. I maybe even miss overheating at the bar whilst wearing three layers and a roll neck jumper.
The thing I miss most, is being free to connect with others around me.
I admit that I have been reminiscing with rose-tinted glasses and on varying scales, we can all relate to times of difficulty during the festive season. I have decided, however, that indulging in a little nostalgia is okay for now! In fact, it’s looking ahead to the future which has been more of a problem for me.
I am a graduate psychologists with a keen interest in health psychology and public policy, and I have already discussed in a previous InSPIre the Mind blog that making changes to our behaviour can be challenging. Indeed, Public Health England have developed detailed guidance on mental health during the pandemic.
In November, I got chatting with my good friend and housemate about all this — the long winter nights ahead, the lack of social connection, and the growing uncertainty about Christmas and beyond. She came up with a plan to lift our mood. Being a creative, her plan was based around crafts.
For this blog, then, I wanted to explore worry during this (very unusual) festive period, and how craft —such as macramé and knitting — can be a useful tool to help us cope and foster much-needed connection.
As a natural over-thinker, worry and uncertainty caused by the pandemic has at times felt overwhelming, and evidence shows that I am not alone.
In the UK, self-reported mental health and wellbeing has worsened since the pandemic began.
What’s more, the Centre for Mental Health has predicted that around 20% of the population in England — that’s 10 million people — will need new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the pandemic.
It is likely that existing uncertainty, worry, and loneliness will be amplified throughout winter.
When we are worried or low, we often try to dismiss our feelings on the basis that others are in a worse situation. It is true that the pandemic has impacted people in different ways and to different severities — with the most vulnerable in society most at risk.
However, the pandemic has impacted us all.
The troubling predictions from the Centre for Mental Health highlight this perfectly. It is therefore really important that we acknowledge our feelings and take care of our wellbeing.
There are many things we can do to support our wellbeing, including speaking to loved ones or professionals, taking regular exercise, adopting a regular sleep routine, practicing mindfulness and avoiding watching too much news.
Last Christmas, I didn’t know how to craft
Okay, so the headline is not strictly true but I enjoyed the Wham reference.
Like most of us, I was crafting from a young age and my Mum had numerous unidentifiable creations stuck to the fridge, wonky clay sculptures on the windowsill and pasta necklaces on her dresser. I am not however a naturally ‘creative’ person and I haven’t really progressed much since the kitchen gallery stopped exhibiting my work.
So, when the suggestion of craft workshops was first made to help us through winter, I was more convinced that these activities would bring me more stress than calm.
Like anything though, it is important to start at your level and have the right support. If I were trying meditation to support my wellbeing, I would start with some short, guided exercises. The key to success with crafts was the same.
We started with a simple macramé plant-hanger and my housemate was on hand to guide us through (there are tonnes of online walkthroughs for macramé and more). I found that I had to concentrate intensely on what I was doing to keep to the strings in the right order and tie the knots in the right places.
There was nothing else going on in my mind.
What’s more, I felt a genuine sense of achievement when it was finished — I had made something by hand and it looked good!
My experience mirrors research by UCL and BBC Arts. In a survey with over 50,000 respondents, creative activities such as crafting were found to help participants cope by regulating their emotions. They distracted from stress, gave headspace for problem-solving and facilitated self-development by improving self-esteem and confidence.
Other research involved a group of textile craft-makers where participants described how craft was a source of optimism and satisfaction, and these positive feelings helped them prepare for times of uncertainty.
Furthermore, in a study that investigated knitting and wellbeing, respondents reported that the repetitive activity fostered calm and relaxation. The knitters were all members of an online community and they felt that knitting in a group improved social confidence and communication.
All I want for Christmas is (to see) you
Many businesses are turning to online crafts as an alternative to the traditional office Christmas party. I don’t know about you, but I reached my Zoom-quiz capacity during the first lockdown, so this sounds like a great way to mix things up!
What’s more, in a qualitative study of 15 written narratives, participants described how their self-esteem was boosted when praised for crafts given as gifts. They also felt that self-made gifts were an expression of love that would strengthen relationships.
So, even if we cannot see each other in the same way this year, crafting together online or giving self-made gifts can provide us with a powerful form of connection.
Feeling inspired and enlightened, I reached out to friends and family to ask if they had been crafting this winter. Doing so ended up being a great way to connect in itself, and I was amazed by the variety and talent in their responses. So much so that I have shared (with permission) some of their creations below.
This festive season has been both different and difficult. However, there are lots of things we can do to support our wellbeing through this period. Craft can promote wellbeing, by helping us stay in the present, by boosting our self-esteem and by facilitating connection.
Another InSPIre the Mind blog previously explored the creative arts and mental health. It describes how other activities such as visiting galleries (many offer great online content) and listening to music can give us a boost, too. So, if making just isn’t for you, appreciating art can also benefit our minds.
On that theme, I will take this opportunity to plug a charity raffle for Choose Love organised very by a dear friend at Find a Maker*. Twenty-five raffle prizes have been donated by talented, independent makers and I know I would certainly appreciate having one of their pieces in my house. All that is left to say is Merry Christmas, Happy Crafting and I hope that the new year brings us all a bit more normality.
Closes 30th December 2020