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Keeping your hands busy linked to maintaining a “healthy mood”

Have you ever felt the sudden need to just get up and start working with your hands, be it to do something fun, busy work, or even chores like scrub your bathroom, while you’re in the middle of an important project?

Don’t worry. As it turns out, you’re not procrastinating — your brain just needed to take a few moments to rest.

This is according to Susan Biali Haas, a doctor, writer and motivational speaker.

In an article on PsychologyToday, Haas said that when people use their hands to do something that doesn’t demand much cognitively, it gives the mind a chance to relax and rest. Going “offline” allows the brain to work on problems behind the scenes.

“It’s not uncommon for people to have breakthrough ideas while mindlessly working on something with their hands,” Haas said, linking the phenomenon to an idea presented by Mind-Body Medicine expert, Herbert Benson.

Benson, in his book, The Breakout Principle, posited that it is only when people engage in repetitive tasks that take their minds off a problem they are struggling with, that the solution often magically appears.

Haas further explained that, besides being a means for the brain to relax, working with your hands may actually help you maintain a healthy mood and outlook.

“Using our hands may actually be key to maintaining a healthy mood, and the lack of this type of activity may contribute to feelings of irritability, apathy, and depression,” she said, mirroring what author Kelly Lambert said in her book, Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power.

In it, Lambert notes that the brain’s rewards circuit is fueled by physical activities which are performed by the hands.

“What revs up the crucial effort-driven rewards circuit — the fuel, if you will — is generated by doing certain types of physical activities, especially ones that involve your hands,” said Lambert, a neuroscientist from the University of Richmond.

Lambert also cited activities such as knitting sweaters, sculpting, modeling clay, drawing or tending to gardens as “rewarding” because they produce results that one can see, feel and touch. (Related: Feeling uninspired? Boost your creativity with these 9 activities.)

“Such actions and their associated thoughts, plans and ultimate results change the physiology and chemical makeup of the effort-driven rewards circuit, activating it in an energized way,” Lambert said.

She also linked the current lack of hands-on physical activity to the onset of depression, noting that it could be contributing to the high rates of mood disorders commonly seen today.

“Effort-driven rewards and other real-world interactive experiences generate much more intense and pervasive reactions in your brain than the neurochemical alterations produced by a single pill,” she explained, adding that these reactions allow people to feel more in control of their environment, which makes them feel more connected to the world around them.

This, Lambert said, results in a reduction of stress and anxiety levels, which then helps build resilience against the onset of depression.

Idle hands no more: 5 easy crafts to try at home

Want to keep your hands busy? Here are some activities you can try in your spare time:

  • Learn how to knit or crochet clothing and household items for your friends and family.
  • Start a succulent or cactus terrarium or dish garden. Keeping plants can be a very relaxing and fulfilling hobby.
  • Learn how to make your own bread. The act of kneading and rolling the dough can be therapeutic and relaxing.
  • Learn how to make your own organic hand-made soaps and bath bombs using herbs and fruit extracts. You can give these to friends and family, or even sell some on the side.
  • Scrapbooking is an easy and artistic way to preserve your memories. Print out photos from your phone and digital camera and mount them inside photo albums, which could then act as conversation starters when you have guests over.

For more stories on how to keep your mind healthy, visit Brain.News.

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