One of the things I have been fascinated with as a Resilience & Joy Focused practitioner, are the hidden costs of living in a technologically focused age with all of it’s “time saving” and “efficient” devices that have been taking over tasks that humans engaged in by hand over centuries. While, many of these technological advancements have provided enormous benefits in every arena of life, they have also inadvertently relegated to the ‘lost’ pile, certain vital mental, physical and relational benefits and most importantly the satisfaction that joy that can only be derived from living a hands-on life.
Dr. Carrie Baron, the author of The Creativity Cure, How to Build Happiness with Your Own Two Hands, writes eloquently about the ways in which,
“hands-on work satisfies our primal need to make things and could also be an antidote for our cultural malaise. Too much time on technological devices and the fact that we buy almost all of what we need rather than having to make it has deprived us of processes that provide pleasure, meaning and pride. Making things promotes psychological well-being. Process is important for happiness because when we make, repair or create things we feel vital and effective. It isn’t as much about reaching one’s potential as doing something interesting–less about ambition and more about living. When we are dissolved in a deeply absorbing task we lose self-consciousness and pass the time in a contented state.”
Dr. Kelly Lambert, neuroscientist at University of Richmond, who explores the relationship between hand use, current cultural habits, and mood, has shown that “hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor. Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought. “
What is immensely healing and corrective from a psychological stand point with all of these activities, is the emphasis on the process of doing and creating rather than accomplishing or competing. Finding satisfaction in the process of creation, helps create new neural pathways to feeling self esteem and confidence and a sense of pleasure and satisfaction in life.
Here are 5 simple and gratifying ways we can return to more hands on activities and help our brains and bodies build resilience, and experience joy through a sensory rich life.
1: Eat With Your Hands – I come from an eastern culture where eating with our hands is the norm. Moving to the west, and realizing that this simple, primal act has become so disconnected from people’s eating habits, to the point of being looked down upon or thought of as dirty or unhygienic, was distressing. While not all foods are created equally when it comes to hands-only eating (think slippery noodles or marinara sauce : ) ), most are designed to be savored with all of our senses (think juicy mango dripping down your chin, or a morsel of naan filled with curry, and you bet you will want to lick every finger : ) ).
The science: not only does eating with our hands result in more mindful eating habits, knowing when we are full and eating healthier amounts, our fingers and finger tips are actually extensions of our digestive systems. Feeling our food signals to our brain to prepare the stomach for the digestive act. Next, millions of nerve endings relay further messages like temperature, spiciness, and allow for the release of digestive juices and enzymes that facilitate better digestion. All that and it is fun and practiced by billions of people around the world. Dig in!
2: Get Your Hands in the Dirt- the other amazing place that microorganisms are hanging out ready to interact with your fingertips and produce a shot of that feel-good high to rival your expresso : ) Well, not quite, but it got your attention! – your nearest patch of soil. For thousands of years our interaction with our environment was exponentially higher, and while many of us intuitively know that being out in nature or interacting with plants makes us feel calmer, more present, and happier, the science further backs those results:
“gardening or getting our hands in the soil, increases the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood -- much like serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs do. Digging in the dirt isn't the same as taking Prozac, of course, but scientists argue that because humans evolved along with M. vaccae and a host of other friendly bugs, the relative lack of these "old friends" in our current environment has thrown our immune systems out of whack. This can lead to inflammation, which is implicated in a host of modern ills, from heart disease to diabetes to depression. "By reintroducing these bacteria in the environment, that may help to alleviate some of these problems." So, let’s get
3: Cooking, Chores & Crafts – The Three C’s. Who knew that doing our chores could be a boost for our resilience? Anything repetitive and rhythmic like washing dishes, folding laundry, ironing clothes, sweeping can be a way to soothe the mind and relax the body, while also allowing the mind to drift into a dream like state where a lot of creative thinking, inspiration and integration can happen. So yes, doing our chores can actually lead to greater joy and also inspire that sense of establishing greater order in our environment- creating a better external environment to help soothe the internal.
Like to craft or be creative, or wanting to get away from simply being on the internet or TV for entertainment? Find inspiration in the crafting ways of our ancestors and the beauty and the enjoyment they got out of the fire lit hours. “Neuroscientists are studying other forms of creativity and finding that activities like cooking, drawing, cake decorating, photography, art, music and even doing crossword puzzles are beneficial, according to Time magazine. “
The Science: when we’re being creative, our brains release dopamine, a natural anti-depressant. Creativity that takes concentration is a non-medicinal way of getting a feel-good high and helping to alleviate depression. One thought is that it calls on parts of the brain that are being used less and less often in our world of modern conveniences. MRI scans tracked by neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, also the author of “Lifting Depression,” suggest a strong connection between physical work and feeling good.
4: Writing or drawing by hand: In the age of typing, taking the time to keep a hand-written journal, writing down notes or assignments by hand is rare, even though research shows the most effective ways to study and retain new information is to write your notes by hand. That's because putting ink to paper stimulates a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System, or the RAS. According to Life Hacker "The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you're actively focusing on that moment — something that the physical act of writing brings to the forefront."
I will often assign clients a task of writing out difficult emotions as a letter that can be burnt-the words are important, but the physical act of moving one’s hands and letting the energy of the emotion come out through the gesture is intensely relieving and a big part of the release. The same goes for drawing out, doodling or painting difficult emotions or releasing wordless energies. The value of using our hands to release emotion and to clarify our thoughts is exponential.
5: Hands on Healing- and then of course there is the age old belief that our touch heals. From mother’s laying their hands on children when they get hurt to soothe a wound, to contemporary hospitals incorporating massage and Reiki into their preventive care for the feel good hormones and reduction of pain they provide, learning that our hands actually have healing power and can be used to reduce our own stress and that of others, is still remarkable.
The science behind why a squeeze of the hand, a big bear hug, a kneading massage, reiki healing touch is shaping up to be the ultimate mind-body medicine? Touch lowers blood pressure and heart rate , increases immune function and relieves pain, and getting touched or doing some touching makes you healthier -- not to mention happier and less anxious! The act of embracing floods our bodies with oxytocin, a "bonding hormone" that makes people feel secure and trusting toward each other, lowers cortisol levels, and reduces stress. People who get more hugs from their partners, or simply have their hands held, have higher levels of oxytocin and lower blood pressure and heart rates.
Researchers measured immune function in healthy adults who got either a 45-minute Swedish massage or 45 minutes of lighter touch. The massaged group had substantially more white blood cells -- including natural killer cells, which help the body fight viruses and other pathogens -- and fewer types of inflammatory cytokines associated with autoimmune diseases.
This is why hands on healing and reiki classes continue to be a big part of the healing work provided in my practice.
So, which will you choose to boost your Joy and Resilience this summer? Make and eat something yummy with your hands? Plant a garden bed or simply put your hands in the soil of a potted plant? Let yourself slow down and enjoy the daily chores or take up a new hands on craft- collaging, drawing, painting, playing an instrument or knitting? Will you start writing hand written notes and cards?
Or, if you are in the Bay Area and want to learn a hands on healing method for alleviating anxiety, reducing stress and pain, grounding, and deep mental calm and meditation, why not join us at the next Reiki class.
Let’s do it together- hand in hand! Share your stories in comments below and share the post with those you think may benefit!
Anjuli Sherin, LMFT
Welcome to Joyous Resilience Blog! An inspiring resource for fellow lovers of Joy, Healing, Beauty, Nature, Literature, Cinema, Art, Poetry, Music, Dance, Food, Culture, Photography & Spirit. Let's Share In Joy. Do Good In The World & Have Fun Whenever Possible!