After the year we’ve had, we could all use a little therapy. And while tackling DIY projects might not intuitively sound like an activity that can restore us to a state of tranquility and mental balance, there are a lot of reasons why we should DIY to do just that.
Yes, DIY projects can involve a lot of frustration, tears and disappointment in oneself (or at least, mine do), but they’re actually a valuable activity for enhancing our mental well-being. Here’s how they help us, along with a few projects you might tackle to brighten your day.
First, Though, A Little Reminder
If you’re struggling with mental health challenges, remember that you don’t have to struggle alone. Reach out to others, whether it’s through local mental health resources, online therapy or your own support network. Mental health is not different from physical health—we need to stay on top of it to thrive.
How DIY Projects Help Our Mental Health
Project planning asks our brains to focus, bringing us into the present and helping to stem the tides of intrusive thoughts that can affect us negatively. Like any creative activity, building or fixing something yourself taps into our brains’ natural tendency to become absorbed in a task.
When we’re absorbed in a project, all our senses, concentration and higher-level thinking skills are engaged in a productive way that’s similar to meditation. Our stress levels go down, our emotions are regulated and our moods lift. This effect might be short-lived to start, but can become a habitual state of mind the more we consciously practice it.
Doing a home project keeps us physically active, as well, which is essential to keeping our brains healthy. As health professionals have been telling us for years, being active reduces stress, helps us sleep better, alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety and improves our concentration.
The first time you attempt a project, you might not be very good at some of the skills you need to complete it. For some, like me, that might be an understatement. If you stick with it, though, you build new neural pathways and increase your neuroplasticity, meaning your brain becomes more flexible and capable of handling new information. This makes us more resilient and more competent at problem solving.
Completing projects also increases our sense of self-reliance and self-confidence, both of which are key to good mental health. Whether we learn to lay a floor or paint a cupboard, knowing we have the skills to tackle home projects makes us less anxious about household repairs. We feel more empowered and more in control of our environments. Even the simple act of completing a project can give us a sense of satisfaction and improve our moods.
DIY Projects to Lift Your Mood
Build Things for the Garden
Garden projects are good mood-lifters because you’re making something to enhance a space that probably already gives you joy. They’re also pretty low-stakes. Making a garden bench is a simple project, but it gives you the prospect of a comfy seat and a nice vantage point to look forward to. It doesn’t even have to look good. Although if it does, you’ve done a fantastic job.
DIY projects that help your garden grow have an added advantage: they give you the satisfaction of caring for living beings that you like. Building a tiny greenhouse, creating a bee habitat, even making an arbor or a trellis for climbing plants are all projects that make life better for your plants and garden visitors. And making life better for others usually makes us feel pretty good about ourselves. Which it should.
Recycle Old Items and Turn Them into Household Wares
Making things that you will actually use in your day to day is incredibly satisfying. It’s a big boost for self-reliance and adds a sense of purpose to our projects. Reusing items that are already lying around the house has the added bonus of clearing up some clutter and keeping things out of the landfill. And that can make you feel like you’re making a positive impact on the planet. Which you are.
You can make reusable grocery bags out of old clothing, drinking glasses out of bottles and jars, seed starting pots out of newspaper—the sky’s the limit. The internet is awash with fantastic DIY ideas and, as per usual, it is not going to be shy about sharing its ideas with you.
Renovate for Comfort
Tackle renovations that will add comfort to your home. This could be anything, really, from painting your bedroom a nicer color to adding a second bathroom. It doesn’t have to be big, though. Sealing a leaky door won’t do anything grand to your living space, but it will make you warmer and cozier when you’re sitting next to it. Adding insulation to your attic might bring your heating bills down to a more manageable level, and that can be very, very comforting.
Build storage boxes to keep things tidy and open up your living space so you’re not tripping over things. Make an ottoman to put your feet up on. Put in dimmer switches for a little relaxing mood lighting (that also lowers energy use). DIY projects that make you love your living space just a bit more will be very satisfying to complete and, hopefully, give you a sustained good feeling when you walk into your home.
One Last Thing Before You Start
The DIY projects we tackle when we’re feeling a little low should depend on our stress levels, as well as our skill levels and on the resources we have at our disposal.
Take on a project that will challenge your skillset slightly but that won’t overwhelm you. You want something challenging enough to require your full concentration, but not so high-stakes that dire consequences will ensue if something goes wrong.
If you can use the project to build on the skills you have, so much the better. Avoid taking on a major project that will strain you physically, financially or relationally. Ending a partnership over home renovation stress will not improve your mood.
Good luck, have fun, breathe deep.