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Craft can reduce stress, a new BBC survey reveals

Why doing pottery, textiles and calligraphy could boost your mood

IGetting creative can make you happier, according to a new BBC survey of almost 50,000 people.

Over three quarters of respondents in the BBC Arts Great British Creativity Test said creativity could help block out stress and anxiety, with almost a quarter naming some kind of making or craft practice as their favourite activity.

The test, carried out in collaboration with University College London between March and May 2018, is the largest study of its kind. Its aim was to explore how creative activities can help us manage our mood and boost wellbeing.

Calligraphy. Image rawpixel.com

Making – whether creating physical or digital artwork, working with textiles or wood, or engaging in pottery, calligraphy or jewellery – emerged as the most popular category of creative practice, with 23.9% of 47,924 people across Britain pointing to one of these as their favourite past-times. This was closely followed by musical activities – singing, playing an instrument or composing – at 23.8%. Gardening, reading, cooking and writing also proved to be popular. 

UCL senior research fellow Dr Daisy Fancourt, who led the study, said the results revealed three main ways in which we use creativity as a coping mechanism to control our emotions: as a ‘distraction tool’ to block out stress and anxiety (76% of participants pointed to this as a reason to engage in creative activities); as a ‘self-development tool’ to build up self-esteem and inner strength (69%); and as a ‘contemplation tool’, to get the headspace to reflect on problems and emotions (53%). 

‘This study is the first to show the cognitive strategies the brain uses to regulate our emotions when we’re taking part in creative activities,’ she said. ‘While previous studies have shown the strong link between creative activities and emotions, we've not been sure about how this has been happening.’

Carpentry. Image Pixabay

The researchers said engaging in new creative activities – regardless of your skill level – appeared to be particularly good for our emotions and wellbeing, while activities people had done for more than ten years became less effective at regulating negative emotions. 

They said that emotional benefits could be derived from even a single session of creativity, although there seemed to be cumulative benefits from regular engagement. Live creative activities that involve face-to-face social interaction are better than virtual ones – as demonstrated by a related experiment where responses of people who had taken part in a live group singing session were compared with those who had taken part virtually, from home.

Textiles. Image Grupo NK via Pexels

When faced with particular hardships in our lives, the researchers said, creative practice could be particularly beneficial.

The findings were revealed today as part of the Get Creative Festival – the UK-wide celebration of have-a-go creativity from 11 to 19 May.

See the full results of the BBC Arts Great British Creativity Test

If you're not already a maker, here are 7 easy ways to get crafting to boost your mental health

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