Reducing Depression with Hands-On Activities

by Kathryn

in Depression Self Help

Kathryn Vercillo - writes about hands on tasks for help with depression

I’m delighted to publish this guest post by Kathryn Vercillo. Kathryn found her own particular way to help herself recover from serious depression and she has written about it in a new book. Kathryn turned to crochet as her healing activity but, as she tells us below, the benefits she gained from crochet can be be obtained from all sorts of hands-on tasks – Martin

I always hated it when I was in the midst of depression and someone would say to me, “just do something to take your mind off of it”.

If I had that much control over the chaos inside of my mind then I wouldn’t be stuck in my bed, doubled over by the pain of life, now would I?

So of course I hate to admit that those people were right, but in the end it proved to be true; getting outside of myself and immersed in a hobby eventually did become a big part of reducing depression’s grip on me.

What I found is that a hands-on activity that I could do alone, in my bed if need be, provided a number of mental health benefits and a much needed break for my mind. I later discovered plenty of research to suggest that I was not alone in experiencing the therapeutic benefits of crafts and hobbies.

How Crochet Saved My Life

The craft that I discovered that resonated for me was the craft of crochet, the single-hook cousin to the two-needle activity of knitting. Adrift in the sea of depression I was trying every single piece of advice I came across for getting better and one of those things was to go back to something that you enjoyed doing as a child. I’d made friendship bracelets and other things with yarn when I was younger so that’s what caused me to pick up crochet.
depressed girl - Hands-on activities for depression
Truth be told, I did not think that this was going to do any good. It had been a long time since any activity at all had captured my interest. I truly believed that I would never be interested in anything ever again. My thoughts constantly turned to the option of suicide, not because I wanted to die but because I really did not want to have to keep on waking up to this painfully muted existence. I tried crochet because I had to try something, not because I believed in it.

There was no immediate miracle. It’s not as though I picked up a hobby and suddenly started whistling tunes and seeing the point to every day life. But there was an occasional flicker of momentary relief. During this time of my life I was crying for hours every day, for no apparent reason, and although my yarn was often wet with salty depression there were also whole minutes of time when I would be so focused on pulling one loop up on to another that I would cease crying. My breathing would slow to a normal pace. My head would stop whirling with anxiety for a brief time.

It happened slowly, through a minute here and a minute there of reprieve. Depression is so constant. Those minutes provided my brain with important rest and rejuvenation. It started to heal. I was soothed. I was buoyed. I was improved. Slowly and steadily, my daily quality of life was enhanced. Each day, I could practice my new craft. I could learn a new skill, create something out of nothing, get a boost of much-needed self-esteem. I could get better, one loop of yarn at a time.

Therapeutic Benefits of Crafting

Crochet was the craft that helped me but the benefits of the craft can be applied to many other hobbies and activities. Some of the main therapeutic benefits of a hands-on hobby include:

  • Breaking the cycle of rumination. Depression is a constant monologue of madness; a hobby provides an external focus to quiet that sound.
  • Mindfulness practice. You can learn to “be here now” when you are engaged in a hands-on task that requires some attention.
  • Repetitive activities release serotonin. Whether it’s crochet or whittling, an activity of repetitive action serves as a natural anti-depressant.
  • It becomes a talking point to be proud of. I was so relieved to finally have something to say to my friends and family about what I was doing instead of just talking about my misery. They might not crochet but they were happy to hear me talking about something new!
  • Creating something by hand is a skill. Learning something new and having a product to show for it improves self-esteem and our sense of our own value.
  • Hobbies connect us to others. You can talk (online or in person) to other enthusiasts, make your craft to donate to charity and celebrate being part of a niche in history.
  • Practice problem-solving. We start small by solving problems in our craft and it reminds us that we can solve the bigger problems in life. We learn to imagine better outcomes.

5 Hands-On Activities to Try

Crochet is the hobby that worked for me but any hands-on activity that you can get started with fairly easily can have therapeutic benefits. Here are five activities to try to get started:

1. Building model cars or planes. A male friend of mine who read my book, Crochet Saved My Life, told me that the benefits of the mindfulness that I describe are the same things he experiences when he is immersed in building model cars.

2. Appliance hacking. In his book Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World, author Mark Frauenfelder discusses the immense satisfaction of hacking an espresso machine to see how it works and how to make it work better.

3. Gardening. Literally getting your hands dirty can make you feel more connected to the earth and more connected to yourself as a result.

4. Working with wood. Whether you’re whittling yourself a statue or building large pieces of furniture this focused, creative task serves as a place for your imagination to thrive again.

5. Knitting / crochet. Many men have found needlework to be surprisingly relaxing. In fact, there are crochet programs in prisons across the nations designed to help male inmates give back to the community while healing themselves in what is normally a destructive environment.

If you don’t find yourself immediately drawn to an activity, relax; there is something out there that you will enjoy so keep on trying! Try to think back to the activities you liked as a child and go back to those basics. Clay, building blocks, drawing, digging holes, doing science experiments … these are all starting points for finding your way out of depression.
Image of cover for crochet saved my life

Craft as Part of a Well-Rounded Treatment Plan

Crochet was a crucial part of helping me to get through the chronic depression that had followed me around for fifteen years.

However, it would not have saved me alone.

For me it was combined with therapy, medication and yoga.

What works for each individual is different but craft can be one component of the treatment plan for people from all walks of life.

Consider that as you cobble together the bits and pieces of what ultimately works for you!

This is a guest post by Kathryn Vercillo who has written a book about her experiences called Crochet Saved My Life. Kathryn blogs at Crochet Concupiscence and can be found on Twitter @KathrynVercillo.

Images: Julie Michelle Photography

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Last revised on December 10, 2012

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