Arts and Crafting Your Way to Mental Health

I’ve been told on more than one occasion to try meditation. And I have. And you know, it’s great. Yoga’s awesome too. Deep breathing? Very satisfying. Soothing nature sounds? Love them. But aside from a good, long Real Housewives marathon, nothing relaxes my brain more and delivers me to a zen state quite like arts and crafts.

Full disclosure: I am not artistically gifted. I got a C in drawing my sophomore year. In drawing. Isn’t that one of those throwaway electives everyone aces? I barely pulled a B- in ceramics the next semester (why hadn’t I learned my lesson?). I don’t understand perspective and my shading is atrocious. I have no patience for sketching or planning projects in advance.

But I am intensely passionate about glitter and bright colors. And I possess a blessedly limited short-term memory which enables me to believe with renewed optimism that every new project I begin will, in fact, not suck.

I encourage anyone seeking a quick mental vacation to tackle something artsy and/or crafty. Though hitting a snag in your project may potentially incite more of the frustration and irritation you were attempting to escape in your real life, the temporary high you’ll achieve from all those rhinestones, yarn, markers and glue (those last two might incite a different kind of high) is worth it. And once you’ve lost your patience or completed your craft (whichever comes first), another promising creative endeavor is right around the corner.

Here are some of my favorite homemade attempts at mental health:

1. Jewelry making

There’s a bead store near my apartment that flaunts an array of sparkly, mesmerizing baubles in the window. That’s like a candy purveyor setting up shop next to an elementary school and parading his sugary wares in plain sight of the sucrose-addicted youth of America. When presented with shiny objects, I cannot look away.

Since moving to the neighborhood, I’ve been eager to spend some of my college loans on glimmering trinkets, but these beads are not the cheap plastic kandi ornaments of my raver days; these are legitimate (i.e. pricey) jewelery components. So I signed up for a basic wire class and spent a Sunday morning with some lovely retired women learning to make loops and chains. My loops all looked like misshapen letter P’s instead of the perfectly symmetrical lollipop shapes the instructor made. But that didn’t stop me from swooping up a set of tools and some pricey Swarovskis in hopes of creating my own masterpiece.

Though riddled with imperfections and unsightly flaws, the earrings pictured above are my first wearable accomplishments and they haven’t spontaneously broken or caused harm to my earlobes yet, so I’m happy.

2. Knitting and crocheting

My mom is one of those multitalented freaks who can design and create a runway-worthy outfit while cooking an elaborate dinner for twelve and steam-cleaning the walls (she is also a professional manicurist who can artfully transform the most talon-like claws into beautifully Shellac-ed nails, but that’s another story). I grew up watching mom sew, knit and crochet countless garments and always wanted to follow in her footsteps. Sewing proved to be disastrous (I can’t be trusted to operate heavy machinery, especially if it’s expensive), but I found knitting and crocheting to be pleasantly possible.

Though I definitely have a drawer full of half-finished scarves and abandoned mittens, thanks to Debbie Stoller’s brilliant and now classic Stitch ‘n Bitch books (my favorite title is Stich ‘n Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker), I’ve managed to complete one or two cool, wearable items. I even knit my sister a little backpack emblazoned with a pink cartoon bunny, back when little backpacks were, you know, a thing. The best part about knitting and crocheting is that once you get the hang of it, you can absolutely watch TV while doing it. Granted, you’ll need to stick with something on the level of Jersey Shore—try following a pattern while watching Mad Men and you’ll fry your brain, screw up your purls and potentially miss a moment of Jon Hamm screen time (not cool).

3. Coloring

I don’t care what level of maturity you think you’ve achieved—you are not above cracking open a box of Crayolas. I have the benefit of frequently babysitting two nephews and a niece, all under age 10, so I can sneak in a therapeutic coloring session and pass it off as responsible supervision (it is not).

But you need not be in the vicinity of children to partake in this soothing activity. Now that you’re a grownup with all sorts of sophisticated motor skills, you may be surprised to find just how artful your coloring can be. And who doesn’t love anything accented in cerulean?

If you really can’t bear the thought of purchasing a Disney Princess-themed book “for kids 3 and up!” at Walgreens, craft stores and Amazon sell an array of “adult” coloring books (not that kind of adult, though I am absolutely certain you can find those as well in different kinds of establishments). Treat yourself to a book of Chagall Stained Glass or Orchids of the World, and you can maintain an air of adulthood while still reaping the restorative benefits a good half hour with crayons can provide.

4. Bedazzling

To clarify, when I exalt the benefits of bedazzling, I don’t mean actually utilizing the legendary, patented Bedazzler. I bought one at Wet Seal for $10 several years ago, and found it far more complicated to operate than I’d hoped (all I wanted was my own 2000 MTV VMA “Oops I Did it Again” Britney Spears bodysuit—is that really so much to ask for?). I use “bedazzling” as a general crafting term, meaning to apply shiny objects to any surface deemed appropriate (I deem all surfaces appropriate for this purpose, but that’s just me).

My favorite item to bedazzle is the cell phone case. You can buy gaudy, pre-made rhinestone encrusted cases at the mall for about $25, but where’s the fun in that? I recently purchased an unadorned pink iPhone carrier and bedazzled that poor bastard to within an inch of his life with supplies I’d picked up at the hobby shop.

I used to spring for Swarovskis for all my bedazzling needs, but quickly found that the frequency with which I drop my phone and knock off crystals should not afford me anything fancier than plastic. I bought three sets of shiny jewels at $1.99 a pop, some all-purpose fabric glue, and created a ridiculous, shimmering mobile device even Malibu Barbie would be ashamed to carry. If that’s not a step towards adulthood and psychological stability, I don’t know what is!

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