From home brewing and foraging to beekeeping and soap making, traditional skills are enjoying a revival in recent times. This may be thanks to TV shows like The Repair Shop or it might be that we are seeking a break from too much digital entertainment and devices.
Additionally, many traditional skills can be friendlier to the environment and are often associated with restoring and repairing items. This comes from the mindset of the past, where people made do by repairing their items rather than going out and buying new ones.
Throwaway culture has shaped how many of us buy products but with a greater understanding of our impact on the planet, we must reuse, repair and recycle where possible. Not only is restoring items through traditional skills beneficial to the environment but these practices can also act as mindfulness activities, helping boost our mental health.
What are mindfulness activities?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation where you are focused on what you are sensing, feeling and doing at the moment in a non-judgemental environment. This could be from simply meditating or following breathing exercises to engaging in activities that direct your focus to what you are doing, such as eating slowly or going for a walk and feeling the nature around you.
Some activities actively engage your focus, such as arts and crafts or traditional skills from yesteryear that not only encourage concentration but can act as a form of therapy. We are focusing on traditional skills and how they can be used as mindfulness activities to help improve your mental well-being.
Mental health benefits of learning a new (old) skill
Not only are traditional methods and skills great for preserving often forgotten crafts, but learning a new skill can give our mental health a significant boost. Engaging in new skills, even traditional ones, helps to improve brain function and memory.
The act of learning something new helps get your cognitive functions whirring and through the satisfaction of performing a traditional skill you can increase your mental wellness and happiness. Taking on a restorative task once you’ve developed your skills can help with finding a purpose, with a goal to set our mind on achieving.
Many traditional skills can be learned alone as there is a wealth of available information in libraries and, of course, the internet. However, it may be more beneficial to learn a traditional skill from others, which can help us in our need to socialise. Regular workshops, fetes, festivals and events will require those with traditional skills to help out and it can be a great way to meet like-minded people.
Examples of restoration skills
With hundreds of years of innovation to choose from, there is no shortage of traditional and restorative skills to choose from. Here are a few examples to help inspire you.
- Fixing a vintage car. There’s no real comparison between modern cars and their vintage counterparts. Sure, today’s vehicles are more reliable but they don’t evoke the same level of joy and inspiration as classic models. With so many vintage cars available, you can pick up a ‘project car’ for a small fee and set yourself the target of getting it running. Fixing a vintage car helps you learn a new skill with a sense of achievement coming when you get back on the road. Specialist car restoration experience can help with painting and the finer mechanical details but try fixing things yourself first, after all, it’s essentially just nuts and bolts. This classic skill can help you to build confidence as you begin to work out the mechanics of the car you are working on and it’s something you can bond with friends and family over. Consider joining a classic car club for hints, tips and social gatherings to compare notes about your rebuild.
- Crafting. The beauty of picking up a craft is that there is so much to choose from that you’re bound to find something that strikes a chord with you. Engaging in crafting such as knitting and darning means you never have to worry about throwing away clothes again. Besides keeping your wardrobe well stocked there are well-being benefits to picking up sewing, knitting and darning skills. This mindfulness activity is a great stressbuster while also reducing anxiety and helping to tune fine motor skills in your fingers for improved dexterity. Taking the time to craft increases your engagement with the arts while helping you feel pride and enjoyment in your work. Arts and crafts activities have been shown to improve cognitive function, particularly in dementia and stroke patients, while they can also help ease social isolation through craft fairs.
- Woodworking. Humans have been using and working with wood for thousands of years and it’s still a relevant skill today. From repairing furniture and decorations to repurposing wood to transforming it into something else, there are plenty of ways to incorporate woodworking into your life. Working with wood helps to engage your brain, releasing pleasant chemicals such as dopamine while also enhancing your spatial skills and awareness. Creating or repairing something made from wood helps to improve your concentration and mental sharpness while lifting your mood. Woodworking also helps to increase your cardiovascular activity as you regularly sand, plane and saw for the perfect finish. It also helps improve fine motor skills, once again ensuring that your fingers remain flexible and functional as you get older. Through the woodworking pieces, you create or restore, you can enjoy building friendships with others who have similar interests or who may be interested in the work that you do.
Benefits of using traditional skills
Using traditional skills to restore previously loved items, vehicles and furniture are great for mindfulness but there are other benefits to picking up these forgotten crafts. It’s also a great way to keep these skills alive and pass them on to future generations.
Finally, there is also a sense of accomplishment and joy when restoring something to its former glory. It might have been in a terrible state before but helping to make it useful once again should be a source of pride.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.