Arts and Crafts as Self-Care? 5 Projects for Caregivers

Woman knitting
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If you’re even five minutes into a caregiving journey you’ve heard this advice from professionals, friends, and random people on the street: “don’t forget to take care of yourself.”

As if forgetting is the problem. Not lack of time. Not lack of energy. Not guilt. Just, plain ol’ lack of memory. Like you’re going to wake up tomorrow and think “OMG, now I remember! I was supposed to take care of myself.

Okay, here I go, off to the resort to eat bon bons and get a pedicure. Thank goodness I remembered”

But if you’re even five minutes into your caregiving journey you also worrying about burning out. Questions loom large: will I have the energy to do this for as long as it needs to be done? How will I keep myself from developing resentment? How can I be kind to the my loved one when I am so tired, stressed and angry myself?

And yes, of course, we know self-care is part of the answer to long term perseverance and to maintaining joy in our role.

One of the ways I’ve seen lots of caregivers practice self-care while not adding more tasks to an already overloaded schedule is to add the creative arts to their daily lives. Of course, it takes creativity just to fit crafts into your schedule. Some ways it can be done:

  1. Because caregiving often requires interactions with the medical system which in turn requires lots of waiting, crafts can be a productive way to pass the time that doesn’t require the concentration that reading a book might. You can still interact with your loved one, be ready to advocate on a moment’s notice if you’re knitting a sweater. And the repetitive physical act of knitting a sweater can also be soothing to our jangled nerves. Plus, you have a sweater when you’re done! You can even give it to a special health care provider when you’re done.
  1. Did you ever have a penchant for drawing? Now is the time to pick up a pencil and a sketch pad again. Maybe you can create a graphic novel about your experiences? Graphic novels are hot right now! Or design the cover for a thank you card to folks who have been a part of your caregiving team.
  2. Quilting is not the easiest craft to learn and certainly putting together a quilt is by no means a portable project. But you can work on a square or two in your car, or in a waiting room. Quilts can be a great way to celebrate a life as well, creating squares with depictions of happy memories. Even kids can get involved by drawing on a square with a fabric pen or paint.
  1. If you’re looking for something collective that requires almost no crafting skill, put together a latch-hook rug project. You can use a commercial kit or design a simple pattern on a piece of backing. Hand everyone who comes to visit a latch-hook and some yarn. Give a 90 second lesson if folks need it. This can be especially good for managing teenagers or others who might want to visit a sick friend but also might struggle with knowing what to say or what to do. A focus on an alternative, collective project can work wonders.
  2. Shrinky Dinks, did you know they’re back? For those of us who grew up or had kids in the 70s and early 80s, these strange baked plastic crafts have a deep nostalgia value.  But best of all, young child and older adults can do them together because they can be simple or complex depending on your end project. How about matching Shrinky Dink necklaces for everyone on the caregiving team? Also, you can’t watch them shrink in the oven without some momentary joy, which makes for a double win.

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