In 2007, I worked as a psychologist in prison. My favorite inmates were the women in solitary confinement. They were by far the most interesting people I had ever met. Even though they sat in cages with plexiglass barriers, they were extremely receptive to counseling. Living in lockdown for an indeterminate amount of time, confined to cells 23 hours a day, 7 days a week, took a toll on their mental health.
As a cognitive behavioral psychologist, I worked hard to develop strategies to manage the severe stress and anxiety they experienced, and to help them make the needed behavioral changes to leave solitary confinement.
Cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) include a broad range of tools, which are very effective at managing emotions and changing behavior. One tool in CBT utilizes activities. It was difficult to determine which activity or set of activities might be helpful to the women, so I ran an informal experiment to determine which activities worked best to manage their anxiety. All clients were willing participants in my study.
There were only five activities available in lockdown: word puzzles, math puzzles, books, paper crafts, and television (some inmates were allowed a small television in their cell).
Each client engaged in one of the five activities daily, for 30 days. I evaluated their level of anxiety at the beginning of the experiment and at the end. Somewhat predictably, television generated the most anxiety, but surprisingly paper crafts generated the least, with the ranking below:
- Paper Crafts
- Math Puzzles
- Word Puzzles
Neuropsychological Benefits of Crafting
You might be wondering why crafting worked so well to decrease anxiety. Crafting accesses visual spatial reasoning. Neuroscience research would suggest crafting deactivates the emotion center of the brain and activates the logical brain, which is why math puzzles were also effective. Working with your hands while engaging in tasks that are active rather than passive also calms the mind. Seeing a project through to completion in an hour or less and being able to complete multiple projects in one day creates several opportunities to regulate mood. Making something beautiful and knowing you were responsible for creating it produced feelings of pride. In addition, engaging in crafting daily inspired creativity and lead to new projects.
Crafting seemed to empower my clients. For a moment, they became creators rather than passive observers. I noticed the neuropsychological benefits of crafting for over a year. I shared as many paper craft ideas as possible with them. No glue or scissors were allowed in lockdown so origami worked well.
Manage Anxiety with Crafting
You might say the pandemic has placed us all in lockdown with an indeterminate sentence. Crafting is a simple, inexpensive way to manage stress and anxiety. On November 1st, I became serious about crafting with my 8 year old son. We decided to make all the ornaments for our Christmas tree this year. This served two purposes, one, to manage stress and anxiety and two, to create happy memories of 2020. After crafting for 30 days, I also experienced less stress and anxiety just like the women in lockdown.
Easy Holiday Crafts
Below is a list with links to crafts I’ve completed with my child.
NOTE: A hot glue gun is needed for most of these crafts.
3 D Celestial Paper Star Ornament (Cut the paper smaller to make different sized stars)
Salt Dough Ornaments (So easy and beautiful) All you need is acrylic paint and cookie cutters.
Cinnamon Dough Ornaments (white 3D puffy paint works well with these ornaments)
Felt Reindeer Ornament (Hand sewing required)
My 2020 christmas tree with handmade decorations
Other Fun Crafts
Essy Jae is my favorite crafting website. The artist provides detailed tutorials and templates to make crafting super easy.
Remember to craft away your anxiety!
Contact me: If you would like additional help managing anxiety, please reach out to me through my website to make an appointment.