According to the NIH, 25.3 million American adults have experienced some level of pain every day for the past three months, and 23.4 million more Americans would rate their daily pain as severe.
That’s a lot of people in pain – and living with pain can take a big toll on your mental and emotional health. People living with chronic pain are more likely to suffer from depression and to experience social isolation. Chronic pain can make you feel like you’re not yourself anymore, and like you’ve lost control over your life.
But could taking up a crafting hobby help you cope with chronic pain? The answer could be yes. Living with chronic pain is psychologically and physically challenging, but finding ways to relax can ease the stress, and even fight the physical inflammation that can make pain worse.
Researchers say that learning to lose yourself in a creative hobby can have benefits for chronic pain similar to those of meditation, and can improve mood, fight stress, treat physical inflammation, and block the brain’s ability to treat pain signals.
Creativity and Your Brain
One psychologist thinks he’s found the key to lasting happiness. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. His work on the psychological state of flow, which he defines as a state of being utterly absorbed in the execution of a creative task, has been widely lauded.
In a 2004 TED talk on the subject, Csikszentmihalyi explains that, when you’re fully engaged in a creative pursuit, “You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”
That’s because the central nervous system is only capable of handling so much data at one time. When you’re fully immersed in writing a short story, playing an instrument, doing a crossword puzzle, decorating a cake, cooking a meal, or knitting a sweater, your brain just doesn’t have the processing power to also monitor your physical state and your environment. As a result, hours can seem to pass in the blink of an eye, and you can even forget that you’re cold, hungry, or in pain.
The Case for Crafting
Research has found that patients suffering from chronic pain, depression, anxiety, or PTSD can use crafting hobbies to harness the psychological state of flow, to boost their moods and find relief from pain and anxiety.
Crafts that involve repetitive motions, like crochet and knitting, can have soothing effects similar to those of meditation for patients suffering from chronic pain and mood disorders.
In a study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy in 2013, researchers found that knitting can be therapeutic for people suffering from depression. The study surveyed more than 3,500 knitters regarding their feelings before and after a knitting session. Eighty-one percent of clinically-depressed respondents said they felt happy after a knitting session, with 54 percent saying they felt “very happy.” Respondents also said that they found the activity restful, calming, and meditative.
A further study by researchers at England’s Royal United Hospital found that knitting helped patients cope with chronic pain. The study involved an online survey of 60 chronic pain patients who knit, and a further 15 patients attending a weekly knitting group at the hospitals pain management center. Respondents to the online survey said that knitting helped them regain a sense of control over their lives, and restored a sense of purpose and meaning, while also distracting them from their pain. Members of the face-to-face knitting group said they felt less isolated, and had a higher sense of social belonging.
Results like these are why many pain treatment centers recommend crafting hobbies to help patients coping with chronic pain. In addition to the psychological benefits of crafting itself, these hobbies can boost self-esteem and strengthen your feeling of self-efficacy by allowing you to create beautiful things. They can even help combat feelings of social isolation by getting you out of the house to join a knitting circle, quilting club, or writer’s group, and by allowing you to create thoughtful, handmade gifts for your loved ones.
If you’re looking for fulfilling hobbies that will help distract you from chronic pain, you’re not limited to yarn-related crafts like knitting and crochet. Experts believe that any crafting or creative hobby has benefits for chronic pain, mood disorders, and PTSD. The secret to finding pain relief in a hobby is to find an intellectually engaging and stimulating hobby that allows you to experience the state of total absorption known as flow. That could be writing poetry, painting portraits, playing an instrument, baking pies, quilting, or even adult coloring.
Coping with chronic pain can be draining and can lead to mood disorders, feelings of isolation, and other difficult psychological symptoms. But crafting or creative hobbies could help, by distracting you from pain, giving you a reason to get out of the house, and allowing you to regain a sense of meaning and purpose. Strike back against chronic pain, and take up a new hobby today.