Coocoo For Colour: How Do Our Colour Choices Impact Our Mood?

“The best colour in the world is the one that looks good on you.” Thank you Coco Chanel for your endless fashion wisdom. Whilst I’m usually inclined to defer to Coco on just about anything style-related, her thoughts on colour definitely have me wondering. Is colour selection really just about figuring out what looks ‘best’ on you? Or does this approach simply narrow the way that we think about colour and its potential impact on us?

Interestingly, I have lots of books about both sewing and fashion but one thing none of them mention is colour. Yet, to me, colour is such a key part of why and how I sew. As most of you know, there’s little planning involved in my selection of new projects. Instead, I just trawl fabric shops for endless hours until a fabric catches my eye. Then I either pair the fabric with a pattern I think it’s perfect for, or stash it away until I find exactly the right project. Although my being drawn towards particular patterns and projects is driven by a whole variety of factors, colour plays a massive role in how I select my fabrics.

My attraction to particular colours goes through phases. It doesn’t just influence the sorts of fabrics I select and sew – it dictates most of what I place around me at any particular time. Frequent visitors to Sew For Victory might recall that I’ve been in quite a strong and unrelenting mint green phase recently. From my favourite shoes, to my fabric choices, to my water bottle and my nail varnish – everything has been mint green. And, honestly, I’m not even slightly mad about it. You see, I firmly believe that our colour preferences and choices are tied heavily to our mood and general place in life. I’ve become more and more interested in this as I’ve delved deeper into both the various dynamics of self-care and sewing, as well as trying to understand my own very prevalent attachments to colour.

The psychology of colour impacting our moods is actually very well documented. Throughout history, people have created dominant associations between particular colours and certain emotions, thoughts, and situations. Red has, for example, become almost synonymous with love and romance. However, our colour choices go beyond this in actually having a demonstrable impact on the way that we feel. According to Professor of Psychology Andrew Elliot, some evidence points toward green as having a particularly calming effect on us “because it is associated with growth and nature.” (1) Similarly, orange “is said to stimulate enthusiasm and creativity,” (2) which is good news for us sewists! One really powerful study from back in 1982 found that colour has a dramatic impact on the health and wellbeing of children. As reported by the New York Times (the article is well worth a read if you’re interested), school room colour and lighting changes saw a drop in the children’s mean systolic blood pressure from “120 to 100, or nearly 17 percent…” Their behaviour also changed for the positive. (3)

So what does this mean for us sewists? Colour definitely doesn’t have to be a conscious choice because, ultimately, if it makes you feel good then there’s really no need to interrogate. However, sometimes understanding the impact that colour has on our mood can help us to make purposeful choices in order to move ourselves in a particular direction. If we’re feeling down, throwing on a bright dress can certainly work wonders! As with everything, colour is obviously no miracle cure. But I was super impressed by the amount of evidence out there to suggest that colour really can have a demonstrable and measurable impact on the way that we feel. Having browsed around and plucked different pieces of information from different places, here’s a summary of colours and the moods most strongly associated with them (I’ve included a list of articles at the end of this post, if you’re interested!):

Red: Stimulates and excites. Can be associated with passion and love.

Orange: Stimulates creativity and enthusiasm. Also associated with feelings of playfulness and warmth.

Yellow: Creates positive emotions, such as hope and happiness.

Green: Creates a sense of calm and relaxation, largely due to the association with nature.

Blue: Calms the mind and provides a sense of concentration. Can also be associated with trust and security.

Purple: Creates a sense of calm and soothing. Purple is also historically associated with spirituality, so can help you to feel spiritually connected (is that’s your cup of tea!)

Pink: A calming colour that stimulates a sense of safety and connection with femininity.

I find it so reassuring to know that something as simple as picking a colour to wear can help my mood. Even working with bright and playful colours on my sewing machine has a very real impact on my mindset. Although I couldn’t find the evidence out there during my search, it would make sense that there is also a sort of reverse relationship here – meaning that we might be ‘drawn’ to particular colours as a reflection of how we feel or (if you believe it) what we most need at a given time.

Part of the reason I’ve been reflecting so hard on this recently is that I’ve very much transitioned from a mint green obsession to a love of all things pink. I didn’t even notice it happening but just suddenly found myself picking out pink fabrics, wearing pink nail varnish and clothes – even selecting pink/red flowers at the supermarket. I’m not sure how real the connection is between colour and the way that I feel, but there’s definitely some kind of relationship between how I choose to surround myself with colour and the way that I’m relating to the world around me.

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So what does this mean for self-care? Thinking more consciously about the way that we interact with colour may be a positive step toward checking in with ourselves. However, I think the indications that our colour choices give will vary dramatically from person to person. Just like I wouldn’t suggest wearing black will make us all depressed and sad (it actually makes me feel pretty good most of the time), it won’t be the case that choosing pink fabrics or clothes means the same thing for all of us. As with everything relating to self-care, it’s really about becoming more aware of yourself and your needs – looking at what colours you’re drawn to and how they make you feel. Ultimately, it could all be one big placebo effect – but, if it helps us to be our best and happiest selves, colour is an amazing tool to have at our disposal!

Do you find that colour has an impact on your mood? Are you ‘drawn’ to particular colours when you’re in a certain frame of mind? I’m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments!



(1)
‘How Color Affects Our Mood’, Rachel Grumman Bender, HuffPost (27 Nov 2011)
(2) Same as above
(3) ‘Color Has A Powerful Effect On Behavior, Researchers Assert’, Lindsey Gruson, The New York Times (1982)

Other articles/websites of interest:

‘Colors That Affect Your Mood’, Brook Haven Retreat
‘Color Psychology: Does It Affect How Your Feel?’ Very Well Mind

Sewing For Self-Care: A Round-Up

Being able to post about sewing and its relationship to self-care is probably my favourite thing about running Sew For Victory. I think that so many of us who have battled – or are battling – with mental illness struggle to find a meaning to it. When you’re experiencing something that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, it’s difficult to justify why you should have to suffer through it yourself. Using my blog as a platform to discuss mental health and highlight the incredible benefits that a creative outlet can have for all of us is just one way that I’ve been able to give some sort of meaning to my experiences. And I believe that this search for meaning may be one of the reasons why sewing works so effectively in helping us to manage our mental health. Not only is a great distraction from various external and internal goings-on, it’s a channel through which we can direct our emotions – sadness, stress, anxiety, happiness, or otherwise – and create something meaningful. I don’t even think it matters what you end up creating – a garment, a painting, or a doodle. Because the meaning behind it is there, regardless.

Opening up the blog to other sewist’s stories about sewing and mental health has been an incredible experience. I am honestly humbled by the fact that anyone would want to share such personal stories with an unknown audience, but it’s a testament to those amazing bloggers and the power of this conversation. Although I see the taboo around mental health decreasing in many respects, it still feels to me as though society is most comfortable when it is a conversation being had behind closed doors. Not only does this do little to dispel the ignorance around mental illness, it’s also incredibly dangerous to individuals who are struggling to find a path forward. My hope in starting the Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story series – and writing about my own struggles separately – was to start an open and honest conversation about mental health and the way that creativity can help us navigate the psychological storms.

So far, I’ve had three fantastic bloggers share their stories:

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  • Jenny from Jenny DIY wrote about using sewing as a means to manage anxiety, as well as the complex relationship between self-care and mental health.

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Each of these amazing individuals spoke openly about the ways in which sewing has helped them to manage mental illness and practice the self-care that we all so desperately need. Their passion for sharing the benefits of creativity is evidenced by their total willingness to share their struggles on a blog that is not their own with a whole host of people that they don’t know. It’s this kind of courage that makes me believe we truly will reach a point where conversations about mental health are no longer ‘closed door’ discussions but are ones that we aren’t afraid to have wherever we choose to.

If you would like to add your own voice to this conversation about sewing and self-care, I would love to have you. You can read the original post or simply email me laura@sewforvictory.co.uk to share your thoughts!

Since starting the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, I’ve also shared some additional resources of my own. One of my favourite posts to write was Sewing For Self-Care: The Science Behind Creativity And Mental Health. The more I’ve been writing about sewing and self-care, the more interested I’ve become in the the objectively verifiable ways that creativity can help us to manage our mental health. Although it is an area of increasing interest for academics and professional mental health practitioners, I found a lot of evidence from studies already conducted that indicates a strong positive relationship between creativity and recovery from mental illness. Although a creative hobby is obviously no replacement for professional intervention – whether through doctors or therapists – it is so encouraging to see evidence that points to the benefits of creative outlets in managing our mental health!

I also recently shared one of my favourite posts of personal tips in Sewing For Self-Care: Managing Motivation. My levels of motivation are definitely a strong indicator of where I stand with my mental health on any given day. It ebbs and flows with my mood. Even if you’ve never struggled with mental illness, you’ve likely encountered the ways in which our drive to get things done tends to fizzle out when we’re faced with particular emotions – typically stress or anxiety. Over years of learning to manage my motivation when my mental health isn’t so great, I’ve developed a few different techniques that tend to work in giving my the motivation boost that it needs. Writing this post was a great personal reminder of the fact that I have all of the tools at my disposal – sometimes it’s just about clearing the mental fog so that I can access them!

So that’s a round-up of my most recent batch of Sewing For Self-Care posts. Definitely check out anything you’ve missed and be sure to show your support to the incredible bloggers who’ve shared their stories here. If you’d like to participate in the Sewing For Self-Care: Your Story series, please do be sure to get in touch. Even if you aren’t keen to have anything published on Sew For Victory but just want to talk, you can use any of the many social media avenues (linked at the top of the side bar) to reach out to me. In the meantime, take good care of yourselves.

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Sewing for Self-Care: Managing Motivation

Motivation is a fickle thing. We all find ourselves subject to its whims, usually at the most inconvenient of times (hello deadlines!). To see peaks and troughs in your daily drive is totally normal. Things like energy level, social interactions, and even the weather can impact our desire to get things done. When it comes to practicing good self-care, however, our general levels of motivation can be both an excellent sign of our current state and a great place from which to build ourselves back up.

My motivation is perhaps the most effective indicator of my state of mind. When I’m feeling acutely anxious or depressed, my ability to get things done flies out of the window and away to some far-off land. It’s not necessarily a question of desire. I usually know what I need to do to put myself back on a positive path. But knowing and doing are two very different things. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve become stuck in a cycle of knowing what I ‘should’ do and criticising myself for my failure to do it. This is neither helpful nor compassionate.

Over many years of handling these lengthy dips in my motivation, I’ve developed some pretty helpful techniques to get myself moving again. I like to think of it like giving a car a jump start. Since this is a sewing blog – and I’ve written before at length about why sewing/creativity is so valuable to mental health– these tips are written with creative hobbies in mind. They are techniques that I apply specifically to my sewing, although I’m sure that they could work equally well elsewhere. The tips I’ve put together in this post are also framed by my own battles with mental health, so they’re particularly sensitive to that. However, I definitely find myself applying some of these tools on days where I’m perfectly happy but just ‘can’t be bothered’. So hopefully there’s something for everyone!

*This post isn’t intended to serve as either a diagnosis of or a treatment for mental illness. I write about sewing and self-care because, for me, creativity helps to bolster a positive outlook and has assisted my recovery. However, sewing is not a panacea. I was helped by doctors and therapists, as well as a host of other important interventions. If you’re struggling with your mental health, please reach out to a professional or someone you trust.*

  • Be Kind

If life were accompanied by its own set of rules, I would campaign for this being number one. We forget it far too often, particularly when it comes to our relationships with ourselves. I want to begin with this tip because it should frame your understanding of the others. Nothing that I’m saying in this post should be a starting point for self-criticism. I’m presenting a number of techniques that work for me when I’m struggling to find motivation. But there are days (and, let’s face it, weeks) where nothing is quite able to penetrate the walls of negativity that I’ve put up around myself.

If you find days or weeks where your motivation wanes – when you just can’t get yourself to the sewing table – it’s ok. The worst thing that you can do is add a layer of self-criticism into the mix. It will only further diminish your motivation. I mean, who has ever told themselves ‘I’m such a failure’ and felt more desire to get things done? Kindness should be your watchword. When I’m in a mindset of self-compassion, I usually find that my periods of low motivation pass by the fastest. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Few of us are taught to cultivate self-love. But learning to be kind to yourself truly is the jumping off point for all great things.

*A side-note: I always struggled with the whole concept of self-compassion. On bad days, I still do. If you’re having difficulty developing a mindset of kindness, I highly recommend looking up metta meditation (there are some on the Insight Timer – a free meditation app that I use). I know this isn’t everyone’s thing – and it’s totally not sewing related – but it’s a really incredible tool!

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  • Small, Achievable Tasks

Now we’re on to the concrete stuff! One of the greatest drains on our motivation – particularly when it comes to creative projects – is looking at a big task as one complete whole. Creative hobbies are often very involved, with lengthy projects. If you can only see the long hours ahead of you from start to completion, is it any wonder that your motivation to get started might disappear?

When I’m feeling anxious or depressed, it’s really easy to get stuck in a feeling of overwhelm. Everything becomes a bit overwhelming – getting up, getting dressed, showering, eating. When you’re investing so much energy to just do the things that you need to (like eating), thinking about an optional hobby like sewing becomes totally unimaginable. However, doing something creative is also a powerful path back towards yourself. The important thing is working to build a bridge between your current state and a place that gives you enough energy to work with something creative. To make this achievable, it’s so important to break any projects down into bite-size chunks – little tasks that could be accomplished in a really short amount of time.

The great thing with sewing is that our projects already come packaged in steps. Writing these steps down in a list can be really helpful – i.e. sew front bodice to back bodice; insert zip etc. Doing this condenses the instructions even further and makes them appear even more manageable. You can break the steps down as much as you want, to meet the demands of your life. Sometimes motivation wanes simply because we have so much else going on. Having bite-size tasks that can be accomplished in five minutes is a great way to get in some creative time, regardless of what else is happening!

A word of warning – don’t rely on yourself to do a task breakdown when you’re in a low place. When you’re already lacking motivation, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to invest energy in this. I tend to do a project breakdown at the start of each new project – this allows for any bad days and gives me a pre-existing list that I can turn to at any time.

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  • Create A Multi-Purpose Space

Like me, you may be lucky enough to have a designated sewing space. They’re truly a gift. However, when my motivation to sew has evaporated, having everything contained in a separate room becomes a bit of a problem. I just avoid the space like the plague and don’t have to think about anything sewing-related. When I had a sewing area incorporated into my living space, I found myself sewing a lot more when motivation was low. This is largely because I would find myself walking past my sewing area, seeing something that needed doing, and just getting on with it.

Now I’m not suggesting that we evacuate our sewing rooms. But it’s helpful to find small ways of making the space feel more multi-purpose. A lot of this is about using the room’s advantages. If, like me, you have a big window, adding a comfy chair for reading in the sunlight might be a great option. If your room is hidden away as an escape from the family, capitalise on that! Add a kettle and some snacks, or a blanket so that you can take a cat-nap. Basically anything that gives the room an added, non-sewing purpose. This way, you’ll find yourself going to your sewing room even when sewing motivation is low.

Where this isn’t possible, it might help to develop a list of non-sewing tasks that can be accomplished in your sewing room. I like to clean my room in between projects, for example. Often, cleaning feels much more achievable than sewing does. Sometimes I like to reorganise my patterns or fabric stash. Alternatively, maybe you have some decoration ideas in mind to brighten up your room. For more on this, see the ‘Emergency Tasks’ tip at the bottom of the post!

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My sewing room is super small. But I recently moved my mannequin so that I could throw some cushions down and read in the sunlight. I’ve ended up spending way more time in my sewing room and, often, will just wind up doing some actual sewing!

  • No Zero Days

The ‘No Zero Days’ mindset has been one of the most valuable tools at my disposal in confronting my motivation. The idea is that you work out the things that you want to achieve and commit to doing something towards that goal every day. No Zero Days. For me, this means doing something sewing-centric (choosing a project, working on pattern construction etc.) and something blog-centric (writing a post, replying to comments, social media posting etc.) each day.

The No Zero Days mindset is great because it gives no requirements on how much or how little you do. You’re simply committing to doing something. Even if it’s 11:30 a night and the day has totally passed you by, there’s always something you can do. Make a list of things you could post about on your blog this week, trawl through some online fabric shops to help plan your next project. Just do a little bit of something – even if there’s no way that you can drag yourself to your sewing table today.

Always remember, however, to forgive yourself. If there’s a day when you just can’t get anything done – you’re too distracted, too low, or otherwise – be kind. It’s no big deal. Learn from it and move on. You’ll do even better tomorrow!

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But really, where would I be without my bullet journal?

  • Emergency Tasks

Along with my breakdown of bite-size tasks, I always like to keep a list of ’emergency’ tasks. These are to accommodate my worst days and help me stay on track with my ‘no zero days’ commitment. Essentially, these should be tasks that you think you might be able to achieve if all else fails – and they can be tailored to the things you most struggle with. For example, when I’m in a state of particularly acute anxiety and panic, distraction and absorption become my priorities. I can typically get about the apartment just fine but my mind is racing non-stop. Tasks on days like that are typically focussed on things that I find really absorbing – so it’ll be sitting on the sofa with RuPaul’s Drag Race on TV and doing some cross-stitch. Relatively low effort but still super engaging for my mind. Alternatively, on days when I’m just super low, my priority is typically to get my body moving. Those are the days when I would work on cleaning my sewing room, reorganising my stashes, or otherwise. I might also set aside some hand stitching that I can do in a comfortable seat.

The important thing here is to work with yourself – that’s what makes this a self-care centric practice. Do some experiments. Watch yourself as your motivation peaks and troughs, see what works when you’re in different states of mind. Trial and error is no bad thing. This should be tailored to you and your needs.

This is true for everything I’ve listed. These are tips that speak to my personal experience. Although I believe that they can be translated to different people and different experiences, they might not appeal to you. And that’s ok! Maybe they simply give you ideas of your own that you can adapt to suit you. I wrote this post as something of a guide for potential ways to navigate low motivation. More than that, however, it should hopefully show that there are ways – even on our bad days – when we can move ourselves forward whilst always respecting our needs in any given moment. It’s not about forcing, pushing, or criticising. Rather, it’s about attentiveness and limitless compassion to ourselves – this picture will always look different, depending on your situation and frame of mind. Just be kind to yourself and the rest will certainly follow.

If you have any of your own tips to share – or general thoughts to add – please comment below! I’m always super excited to hear what other people do and have a conversation about the many aspects of using sewing for self-care!

Sewing for Self-Care: The Science Behind Creativity and Mental Health

This is a post that I’ve been piecing together for a while with various bits of research. Since launching my series of Sewing for Self-Care posts, I’ve been growing more and more interested in the evidence behind the use of creative outlets to help maintain our mental health – and potentially recover from mental illness. Although there is clearly so much anecdotal evidence that creativity helps to manage mental health – my experience has certainly proved to me that there’s a connection – is that evidence really enough to suggest that we should all whip out our needle and thread in the name of good health?

Expanding my knowledge of sewing for self-care through the Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story posts has been an eye opener. I’ve heard from people who have used sewing to navigate all sorts of challenges – Tamsin’s story of using sewing to maintain her mental health following the birth of her daughter is just one example. How well do these experiences translate, however? Can sewing be helpful even if you aren’t suffering a mental health crisis? And what exactly is the connection between sewing and self-care? I’ve distilled some of the research in an attempt to answer these questions (and as the ever compulsive former PhD candidate, sources are listed at the end of the post)!

* As always, none of the below suggests that sewing should be seen as a cure for mental illness (and none of the studies mentioned posit that creativity can single-handedly fix a mental health crisis). My personal experience – and the evidence discussed below – is a testament to the power of creativity in maintaining mental health and practicing effective self-care. But I found my answer through a wide range of interventions and activities, including consultation with doctors and work with therapists. If you’re suffering, please be sure to reach out to local professionals who can help to put you on the path to recovery.*

Is There A Connection Between Creativity and Mental Wellbeing?

YES! (I’m really fortunate that this is the answer because otherwise it would make a LOT of what I’ve written totally redundant). There’s a good amount of evidence to suggest that creativity helps to maintain mental health. An article in Psychology Today cites a literature review by Stuckey and Noble, in which they looked through over 100 studies into the connection between engagement in the arts and mental health. Their overall conclusion from looking through these studies was that “creative expression has a powerful impact on health and well-being on various patient populations.”(1)  The researchers also found that these studies showed a general consensus “that participation and/or engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses, and, in some cases, even improvements in immune system functioning.”(2) So creativity could even help you fight off that irritating winter cold!

Outside of this, engaging in creative practices can also put you into a different psychological state. Many of us have experienced this before – a place where you are so engrossed in what you are doing that time passes without you even noticing. This is actually a widely acknowledged psychological phenomenon – labelled ‘flow’ by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (if I remember correctly from my years studying psychology, this is pronounced chick-sent-me-high – I wonder why I remember it?). Flow is essentially a state of hyperfocus and a place in which we are our optimal selves. We experience flow when our whole attention rests on the present moment, when we are fully engaged in and enjoying what we are doing. Creativity is one of the easiest ways to find yourself in a state of flow. And flow is integral to our happiness and wellbeing. The amazing Ted Talk by Csikszentmihalyi – linked in the citations at the bottom of the post – is a really great explanation of flow and why it is so fundamental to our mental health and a fulfilling experience of our own lives.(3) The same thoughts behind flow are the ones that encourage us to practice mindfulness – essentially the act of being fully present in the moment. It all very much connects.

“The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day and 95% of them are exactly the same, day in and day out.”(4) Creativity allows us to break free of these thought patterns and puts us into a different mental space. We turn to what we’re doing, rather than falling down the rabbit hole of spiralling thoughts in our minds. This is why creativity has such an incredible effect on our mental health. As Charles Benayon, writing for the Huffington Post, explains:

“Neuroscientists have been studying many forms of creativity and finding that activities like cooking, drawing, photography, art, music, cake decorating and even doing crossword puzzles are beneficial to your health. When we are being creative, our brains release dopamine, which is a natural anti-depressant. Creativity usually takes concentration and it can lead to the feeling of a natural high.”(5)

Clearly, then, creativity is acknowledged to be fundamental to our mental wellbeing. Whether you are working to recover from mental illness (in which case creativity can be an excellent supplement to other interventions) or simply looking to keep your mental health on point, practicing an activity such as sewing is a great step!

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Will Creativity Always Make Me Feel Better?

I think this is an important question to consider. Next week’s Sewing for Self-Care: Your Story post – written by the lovely Jenny from Jenny DIY – deals with the issue of timing. Because, as many of us know from experience, sewing will not always make you feel better. Sometimes – particularly when those pattern pieces just won’t fit together properly or your fabric can’t help puckering – it will make you feel a bit worse. Learning to respond to your needs in any given moment is something that I’ve already written about at length. But it’s a tough skill to learn (and yes, it really is a skill!). Especially when we know that sewing is such a great self-care practice so much of the time and we convince ourselves that it is always an appropriate response.

Interestingly, reaching that meditative state where creativity can have such a positive impact on your mental health is not a given. Returning to the idea of ‘flow’, Csikszentmihalyi actually identified nine different elements of flow that he saw recurrently when researching people’s engagement in flow activities(6):

  • There are clear goals every step of the way

In sewing, this is a relative given. The process of following a pattern is incredibly goal-oriented which makes it a naturally suitable ‘flow’ activity.

  • There is immediate feedback to one’s actions

This means that, at every step of the activity, you should understand how well you’re doing. With sewing, the feedback is often self-driven and avoiding falling into a place of self-critique can be a challenge (and self-criticism certainly isn’t conducive to ‘flow’). It’s important to be able to acknowledge how well you’re doing, without being hard on yourself if things aren’t going perfectly.

  • There is a balance between challenges and skills

You need to make sure that what you’re doing isn’t too easy or too hard. To achieve flow, you want to be challenged just the right amount – basically, what you’re doing should correspond to your skill level. If you’re sewing, this is pretty simple to assess. Make sure that you’re looking at pattern reviews and details before committing!

  • Action and awareness are merged

Be in the moment, fully present. This can take a bit of effort at first – don’t fall down that rabbit hole of thoughts and, instead, keep returning to what you’re doing (however, determinedly your mind is trying to pull you away with thoughts about the past or future).

  • Distractions are excluded from consciousness

Basically as above. Focus on the activity at hand and don’t let yourself get carried away by distractions.

  • There is no worry of failure

This is definitely one that I struggle with. ‘Flow’ means that you should be so absorbed in what you’re doing that you’re not engaged with the idea of failure. Since ‘flow’ requires that we know what steps we need to take in our activity, we should be fully immersed in carrying these out. If you’re naturally self-critical, it can be hard to disengage from constant negative assessments of your progress. But, if you’re fully in the present moment and the activity at hand, failure shouldn’t be on your radar.

  • Self-consciousness disappears

This relates to the above. It’s basically about putting your ego to the side. If, like me, you’ve taken your creative outlet to the internet, it can be hard to let that self-consciousness go. Many of us are engaged in comparison with others and fear that what we’re making might not get the right kind of response. These thoughts can carry away from the internet and into the activity. Thoughts like ‘What if this goes wrong, when I’ve already told people it’s what I’m making?’ or ‘If the sizing isn’t right, I’m going to look like a sack of potatoes!’ start to become a problem. Returning to ‘flow’ as your priority, the ego gets put to the side. It’s about letting go of your self-image and self-consciousness to be a part of the process.

  • The sense of time becomes distorted

I mentioned this above. When in a state of true ‘flow’, your sense of time will disappear and you’ll find yourself so absorbed in what you’re doing that you don’t notice time passing.

  • The activity becomes ‘autotelic’ (an end in itself, done for its own sake)

This relates to most of the above. If you practice sewing, you should be doing it for the pure enjoyment of the process. Blogging, or taking your makes to social media, can augment this quite a bit. It starts to become a means to an end (recognition, followers etc.) rather than an end in itself. If this is the case, take a step back. Remember why you started sewing in the first place and try to return to that sense of beginner’s joy – where everything you do is interesting and a victory.

These elements of ‘flow’ can definitely make it feel as though such a state of immersion is out of reach. But it truly isn’t. Remember that the positive effects of creativity are not tied to achieving a meditative state. Just the act of creating and getting yourself off the couch to do something productive can be sufficient. It’ll still give you that dopamine boost! But if you want to truly experience everything that creativity has to offer you, it’s a good idea to cultivate some of the elements listed above. A lot of these will just happen naturally when you find something that you love to do and are in the right mental headspace. Some of it might take a bit of work – as, for example, trying to reduce incidents of self-criticism and remain present with the activity. You might find that you achieve this state for just five minutes (and not even notice that you’ve been in it), or it might go on for hours. Although feeling good isn’t a given when it comes to investing time in creative activities, there is so much that we can do towards improving the consistent and long-term impact that creativity can have on our lives.

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So Is Creativity For Me?

Creativity – as well as the positive effects that it brings with it – is absolutely for everybody. I spent most of my childhood feeling like the least creative person on the planet. I invested all of my time in my academics and always told myself that creativity was for someone else. I did poorly at art, played the piano mechanically, and basically spent no time at all investing in anything truly creative. It wasn’t until I started sewing that I realised I’d been carrying so much creative potential. Creativity isn’t an exclusive practice. We all have, in our minds, an idea of someone truly ‘creative’. They’re probably wearing an artist’s smock, glasses, and a beret. But creativity isn’t pre-packaged and it doesn’t come with a list of admission criteria. Find something that you love to do and you will reap the benefits. Divorce yourself from thoughts of judgement from others and stop believing that you have to come into an activity already being totally knowledgeable. I’ve been sewing for two and a half years and I still do more learning than feeling proficient. That’s ok though – learning is genuinely 75% of the fun. You just have to embrace it.

Scientists, doctors, therapists, and those of us with personal experience all point to creativity as a stellar way to help manage your mental health. It is not a panacea – you won’t find that your depression lifts forever the minute you sit down with some knitting needles. But creativity will help to alleviate internal conflict and teach you to cultivate a outlook that will assist you in making lasting change. You just have to give it a chance to work its magic.

(1) Cathy Malchiodi, ‘Creativity as a Wellness Practice’, Psychology Today (31 December 2015). Link

(2) Same as above

(3) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ‘Flow, the secret to happiness’, TED (February 2004). Link

(4) Charles Benayon, ‘How Creativity Improves Mental Health and Wellness’, Huffington Post (5 July 2017). Link

(5) Same as above

(6) Dr Steve Wright, ‘”In the zone”: enjoyment, creativity, and the nine elements of “flow”‘, Meaning and Happiness (5 September 2008). Link