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Using the arts to support wellbeing

5 Apr 2017

Value your creativity and make space for it in your life
Read more…

Great Pottery Throw Down inspires British crafters

7 Mar 2017

TV show influencing crafters

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Campaign calls to boost access to arts in England

25 Jan 2017

Young people left ‘intellectually poorer' by lack of arts
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1 in 10 turning sewing skills into a business

4 Aug 2016

More Brits taking up sewing

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Craft boom drives Hobbycraft sales up

24 Jun 2016

Arts and Crafts shop announce full year sales

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World Wide Knit in Public Day back this June

31 May 2016

Host your own, or find a local event

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Third annual Yarn Shop Day hailed a success

9 May 2016

Over 200 retailers got involved

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NHS prescribes knitting to tackle ill-health

30 Jun 2015

Benefits of knitting recognised by health service<
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Can knitting delay memory loss and help you manage anxiety?

23 Jul 2014

Canadian Living looks to Stitchlinks to provide the evidence
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Retailers celebrate Independents' Day 2014

7 Jul 2014

Independent retailers across the country celebrated last weekend
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Using the arts to support wellbeing

Posted on in Business News, Creative News

Dr Laura-Jane Smith, a respiratory and general hospital doctor in north-east London, writes for the Guardian about how embracing her creative side helped her deal with depression and anxiety.

"I used to ignore my creative side, but after I was signed off work with depression and anxiety, I made space for the things I loved".

PaintbrushesAs a hospital doctor I am used to working under pressure, and had always felt I thrived on it. But when I took time out of clinical training to pursue a PhD, I found I was intensely unhappy. I suffered a range of physical symptoms: palpitations, early morning waking, nausea, severe headaches, poor appetite, diarrhoea, dizziness, breathlessness and tremors.

My day was constantly interrupted by intrusive negative thoughts; I once walked for 30 minutes with "I hate my life, I hate my life" on a loop of internal monologue that I feared had no end. I listened to podcasts and audiobooks fanatically but could not drown out these thoughts, and no rationalisation of all the wonderful things I had in my life could make them stop.

Having "depression and anxiety" branded on my medical file and acquiring a sick certificate came as a shock. I decided to leave the PhD, but things did not immediately get better. I was convinced that I had ruined my career, and my life, and that nothing would ever be the same again. I felt that everything was pointless and daydreamed about getting a terminal illness. I didn't want to die, but it no longer seemed like such a threatening possibility, and the option to opt out was appealing.

I wanted to get better and get back to a version of myself that I recognised so I sought help from everywhere I could. I saw family and friends, and cried with many of them. I made appointments with my GP, an occupational health adviser and a career coach. I was pointed in the direction of a service specifically for doctors, the NHS Practitioner Health Programme, and embarked on a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. I cancelled every commitment in my diary in an attempt to reset and gain some perspective. I woke up one morning at 4.30am and realised I had no commitments and no deadlines, and I asked myself: "What do you want to do today?" The answer, it turned out, was to walk, to watch, to draw, and to knit.

Creativity is a part of myself that I had suppressed and ignored, viewing it as an inconsequential, frivolous hobby. But giving myself time away from work, both physically and psychologically, I made space for the things I love. I sketched and doodled, cut, stuck, sewed, crocheted and collaged. As I reaffirmed to myself that I am more than my work, my internal voices of negativity and fear became quieter and I started to recognise myself again.

I am now back at work and so grateful for the help I received. I now rarely have a whole day free to make salt dough sculptures, or master cable knit, or learn how to rag rug. But I do have time to take a photo, to doodle, to complete five knit rows of my latest hat, or to write a story using only three words. Taking part in creative challenges activated a different part of my brain - they activated a different part of me.

Having worked hard to restore my positive outlook and some self worth, I am anxious to prevent a relapse. I have made myself a number of promises: I will not give all my emotional energy to work; I will take all my annual leave, however difficult it is to find cover; I will say no more often to extra work tasks; I will value activities that make me happy; I will make space for creativity every single week; I will schedule art in my diary during my time off and will not cancel due to work; I will continue to talk about how I feel, as this shows strength not weakness. By making time for the things that recharge me, I am now more effective - a better colleague and a better doctor.

There is growing recognition that burnout not only harms workers, but also compromises the quality and safety of healthcare provision. The Royal College of Physicians has produced a number of reports demanding leadership and action, noting that "investment in NHS staff is not an optional extra, but a vital investment in safe, sustainable patient care".

There is good evidence for the effectiveness of the arts in supporting wellbeing, certainly more evidence than there is for resilience training. Intelligent organisations would do well to embed opportunities for arts engagement in career development and staff retention strategies if they want to maintain productive, compassionate, loyal workforces.

Whether you like to write, to draw, to paint, to knit, to carve, to sing, to sew, to jive, to strum, to film or to yodel, I urge you to value your creativity and make space for it in your life. Be kind to yourself, and stay well. I'll try to do the same.

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