Last November, the World Health Organisation published a report asking: “What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and wellbeing?” Its findings are compelling. One study, for instance, looked at survivors of the 2008 Chinese earthquakes; those given 30 days of calligraphy training had greater decreases in hyperarousal symptoms and stress hormones.
On the eve of Mental Health Awareness Week, at a time when anxiety levels are particularly high (last month a UK government report revealed that 53 per cent of interviewees felt the current situation was affecting their mental wellbeing), mindful activities have come to the fore. Benefits are trifold, says Dr Daisy Fancourt, associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at UCL. Creativity can act as a distraction, it gives space for contemplation, and it is also a means of self-development.
“Craft is about engaging the head and the hands in making,” says Rosy Greenlees, executive director of the Crafts Council. “Even in its most modest form, the repetition and focus of making can be relaxing in moments of stress.” Here are four activities to try at home.
Stress-busting activities can also result in useful objects. King’s Cross design school Store has recently rolled out a digital workshop programme including an event with product designer Peter Marigold. On 23 May, he will be showing participants how to use his self-designed, bio-plastic FormCard to create a range of useful homewares – from hooks to iPhone holders (£25, including materials). Meanwhile, ceramic studio Kana London has just launched the Stay Home Kana Clay Club, a series of online pottery classes that are open to all abilities (first workshop is free; subsequent classes are £20, with materials sold separately). coaldropsyard.com; kanalondon.com
Bruce Gardner is the author of Dorodango – a book about the Japanese mud balls he first discovered in a 2002 essay by science-fiction novelist William Gibson. “Hikaru dorodango are balls of mud, moulded by hand into perfect spheres, dried and polished to an unbelievable lustre. The process is simple, but the result makes it seem like alchemy,” explains Gardner, who also extols the practice’s restorative potential. “It engages the hands and mind constantly, and this invariably induces a flow state that you feel reluctant to leave.” Here, perfection is achieved via patience. “Hours can pass this way if you let them. It’s meditation with a physical product.” dorodango.com
A study conducted by nature-inspired property developers Wardian London and the University of Essex found that when exposed to biophilic design, 74 per cent of participants experienced a positive change in mood, 87 per cent reported lower levels of stress, and 83 per cent felt more productive. With this in mind, Wardian has teamed up with bespoke terrarium-makers The Botanical Boys on a string of online workshops devoted to indoor planting. Until 22 June, a new terrarium masterclass will go live every Monday, immersing participants in the world of crafted ecosystems (classes are free; terrarium kits from £23). “Building a terrarium garden isn’t just fulfilling for your mind, body and spirit,” says co-founder Darren Henderson. “It is crucially beneficial to the environment it sits in.”botanicalboys.com; wardianlondon.com
Drawing and painting
In a recent episode of TV show Grayson’s Art Club, the charismatic artist Grayson Perry interviews British painter Maggi Hambling, best known for her wiry, expressive portraits. “If you’re going to be an artist, you must make your work your best friend,” she says. “Then you can go to it with whatever you’re feeling.” It’s a sentiment at the heart of why art therapy has long been used to treat depression and anxiety. London-based artist Hester Finch finds a similar reprieve in her figurative paintings and pastel drawings. “Finding a dedicated moment to create something provides both peace and introspection,” says Finch, one of the artists offering online classes through Partnership Editions (free with a £10 donation to The Trussell Trust). partnershipeditions.com