Panic, Guitars, Meditation, Paper Crafts – The Benefits of Crafting

For whatever reason, when I was in my mid-teens, I developed panic disorder. It controlled my life and prevented me from “being normal”. All of my friends were going to baseball games, had girlfriends, had no issues being in really crowded public places and had zero issues driving. I quickly realized that I was different and at that developmental time, “different” meant bad. I so badly wanted to fit in, but I was constantly stoking the fight or flight part of my brain (the amygdala). I didn’t know why, but I hated it and just wanted it to stop.

Was it nature? Was it nurture? I obviously didn’t have a degree in psychology, so when it came to finding a solution for my panic disorder, I was throwing darts. Of course, the first dart was going to see a doctor and getting an anti-depressant. Don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of respect for the medical profession, but their lack of understanding panic disorder stems from the same problem that created my panic disorder. Lifestyle. The typical doctor spends about 23 minutes per patient, has about 2,300 patients and likely has a family and kids and has to eat and sleep too. Is this doctor really going to help me figure out why my brain thinks I’m running from a bear in the 23 minutes he spends with me? Nope. Not a chance. The anti-depressants made me feel like I was having an out of body experience and I quickly ditched it. I would rather have a panic attack than feel completely detached from reality, so I just did my best to deal with it and kept trucking on. Fake it ’till you make they say!

I was fresh out of high school, landed a great job working for MCI Worldcom, tried to maintain a social life while also going to community college. My diet was horrible, I was drinking Coke for breakfast and everything was fast paced and stressful from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. Sadly, this is the typical day for the majority of people in this country. THAT lifestyle was causing my panic disorder and I didn’t realize it until I got laid off.

For the first time since I was 15, I found myself without a job. Naturally, things slowed down a bit. I was still hitting the job boards on a daily basis because I was (and still am) a go-getter. I needed to get back in the game because I had goals. Despite all the free time I had due to being unemployed, the panic attacks persisted. Was I destined to be like this forever?

One day I found myself at a party where I saw this guy playing an acoustic guitar. Everyone gravitated towards him. He had everyone singing along and of course, all the girls thought he was the coolest guy at the party. For whatever shallow reason, I wanted to be that guy. “Who’s gonna steal the show, you know, baby, it’s the guitar man”. I wanted to be as cool as the guitar man. A few days later, I drove to Guitar Center and bought a brand new Taylor Big Baby acoustic guitar. I told myself that I’m going to play this thing until my fingers bleed so that I can be that guy some day. And guess what? My world changed completely.

I played guitar for eight hours a day until I felt comfortable enough to play in front of my friends. I actually inspired one of my best friends to buy a guitar too. He saw how quickly I learned to play Tom Petty and Beatles songs and he wanted a part of it! Soon enough, I was playing at parties and guess what, I had the crowd around me. I did it! I was the guitar man. Success!

Me playing with a few Dave Matthews Band fans that I met before a concert in Noblesville, IN.

Ummm, wait a minute. What happened to my panic attacks? Turns out, playing guitar is much like meditation. Panic Disorder can be tough to get over because of the brain’s ability to hardwire itself (neuroplasticity). Every time you have a panic attack due to a specific situation or atmosphere, your brain strengthens those neural connections which furthers your anxiety. For those of you that have experienced Panic Disorder, you know that simply thinking about a panic attack can trigger a panic attack. Playing guitar (a.k.a. meditation) can rewire your brain. That’s exactly what happened to me. Playing guitar gave me my life back. Today, I have two beautiful Taylor guitars hanging up in my living room and I’ve not had a panic attack in almost 20 years.

Fast forward to Dreaming Tree. What’s the connection? Essentially, any sort of crafting has the same effect on the brain. When your mind is focused on the task at hand, those neural connections that cause your panic are put on the back burners and slowly (but surely), your brain begins to re-wire itself which results in dampening or giving those panic pathways less fuel.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did a TED Talk (link here) where he talked about creating and the “flow” state it creates in the mind. “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life, you know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”

Our nervous system can only process so much information at any given time. When you start crafting, everything else that’s going on around you becomes temporarily suspended. “He doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can’t feel if he’s hungry or tired. His body disappears.” he said.

Not only does crafting act as a meditation, but it can also help your body heal. I won’t get into all of the details but if you’d like to learn more about the benefits of crafting (achieving a state of flow), check out this article from CNN (link here) and this one from the University of Arkansas (link here).

So why did I spend the last two hours putting this together? I spend a lot of time in the Dreaming Tree group on Facebook and I’ve often wondered, do our Dreamers realize how much good they’re doing for themselves? Often times I see comments like; “it’s not perfect”, “I’m scared to try this”, “not sure I have time”, “this looks difficult” and things of that nature. Don’t worry about perfection, don’t be scared, find the time, be positive and confident! Most importantly, lose yourself in the process and enjoy it. It’s a great recipe for health and happiness.

Leo Kowal
Dreaming Tree Founder

40 thoughts on “Panic, Guitars, Meditation, Paper Crafts – The Benefits of Crafting

  1. Joan DelPozzo says:

    You’ve done a wonderful job on yourself Leo. A lot of what you say makes sense even for those without panic attacks. I do think there’s a difference between panic and anxiety, although they are closely related. Both bring on fears that are hard to conquer. As I sat here reading this and crocheting at the same time, the rhythm of that had me thinking of so many ways we do things creatively and go into another zone. Even cooking and gardening do it too. So glad you found your way out and that your success is based on doing things you love to do. Have faith that you can do whatever you really want to do in life. Hopefully it was cathartic as well. Wishing you well.

  2. Christine Curran says:

    I have a lot of medical issues and often in a great deal of pain. For a time when I’m crafting they disappear so I often use this as a distraction tool. I often get so distracted that I spend too long and end up in more pain lol. I still do it though!

  3. Maria says:

    How lovely of you to take time to share Leo. We really learn a lot about ourselves when we face a challenge and come out the other side unscathed! All a learning process. And yes, crafting, art etc teaches us to focus on the moment. Now is what matters.

  4. Sheila Zielonka says:

    Wow Leo…. I have suffered with depression and panic attacks since my teens. My “black dog” had surfaced many times since then culminating in three breakdowns, not helped by my parents divorce and our family spiralling into conflict and ultimate separation . In 1995 I gave up my high pressure job in banking and decided to start my own dress making business at home. Worked a treat until I got too lonely so decided to go back to work….. wrong move….long story short, after another breakdown, decided enough was enough so retired and hid myself away …..“ if I stay indoors I cannot upset anyone and no one can upset me”….. was my mantra. It worked for a while and I was still hand and machine sewing. Then card making and paper crafting and ultimately making 3d stuff, caught my eye, very basic at first but now after 8 years at it, I love it and guess what, I feel good about myself, my sense of humour has returned, I still spend too much time on my own as my hubby is still working, but my head and body are relaxed. My “black dog” is back in his kennel and hopefully will stay there. You hit the nail on the head saying that crafting is a medative( my word) medication, so much better than going to the GP or taking lots of meds that can make you feel worse in different ways. I am not going to give up my crafting unless old age overtakes me… I really enjoy what I do and I have to say that you and Dreaming tree have helped me even more. Thank you 🙏
    PS the fact that you, and now myself, have put ourselves in writing also helps, I hope it helps lots more of those “black dog “ sufferers to also find solace too. Thank you again and again. X

  5. Jo Collins says:

    OMG thank you for sharing, I can relate to everything you have said. It goes well with a phrase I see heaps in the craft pages “Crafting is my Therapy!” Crafting is most definitely my therapy and I love everything dreaming tree has to offer. I scroll morning and night to see other creations, they give me ideas. A lot of my “non crafty” friends often say how talented I am, but really its talent learnt from your instructions of which I tell them all the time. When I craft I do get into my own world, my partner might call in every now and then to see I’m still alive (lol) always commenting what is today’s creation? Lucky for me he doesn’t hear me telling you to slow down!! I have suffered with depression on and off for years, so when I craft I am happy. This last couple of weeks have been hectic for me and I have been trying to finish a paper for my study, but in the back of my mind I have just wanted to craft. 2 more days paper will be done and watch out craft world, I’ll be back.

    Sharing your story tells me a little more about yourself, I often wondered what got you into crafting, now its very clear. You would also have to be one of the luckiest men in the world, so many (majority) of women followers. I’m also very happy to see other men have a crack at crafting too. I have tried to get my daughter into crafting but she just doesn’t have the patience, but her 6 year old son loves to craft with me.

    My partner, daughter and 2 grandsons have just literally arrived home (Australia) from Florida today, they were lucky enough to win a trip for 4 to Disney World all expenses paid. My daughter thought I’d like to go, but I was honest and said I would really only want to go for the craft shopping, ie Michael’s, Joanne’s, Walmart, and with the weight restrictions it would have cost me a fortune to bring the supplies home, lol. I said I would have more fun doing that, than going on the rides with the kids. My partner was the best choice as like most men, he’s a big kid at heart. I don’t do well with crowds, my fun times are when we go camping (I also sneak some crafts into the camper) I am camp mother, while everyone else goes off on motorbikes and 4WD, I look after the campsite and craft and cook.

    I am going to show my daughter the links you have supplied and maybe she can levitate some of her stress she carries. I am forever telling her crafting keeps me sane, its keeps my brain ticking over and most of all I love the satisfaction of the end product.

    Thanks for sharing your story Leo, I am a believer of sharing is caring.

  6. Roxann Patzman says:

    I am mentally ill. I’ve been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, ADHD, OCD, anxiety and panic attacks. When I went through cognitive behavioral training, crafting was a big thing. It gives you something to focus on besides your issues. They called it mindfulness training. Crafting helps me focus. Finishing something gives a feeling of accomplishment. My craft room is my sanctuary, it’s where I spend most of my time. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  7. Cindy says:

    So glad you shared this with us! I didn’t know all the technical terms, etc. but have been using crafting for a stress reliever for years and your site with your exquisite designs and excellent tutorials have been a life saver for me – thank you for the time you and your team spend to make things easy for us crafters to pursue our adventures in crafting!
    My husband has memory and cognitive problems from a TBI and being his caregiver 24/7 can take it’s toll, but when I am able to immerse myself in some crafting it’s a little bit like heaven, I can be in control of something for just a little bit and something beautiful emerges in the end — thank you.

  8. Carol Adams says:

    Hi Leo,
    Thank you for sharing I know is very personal for you. We all have things that we’ve either gone through in our past or living through now, we all have those moments. I call them moments because hopefully the worrisome things are just moments . There are times in my busy day I can’t wait to get home and go to my craft room and as you say get in my Zen mode. I believe doing something you love can help with clearing your mind away from negativity. So again thank you my friend for sharing your story with us
    Hugs…..Carol

  9. Marilyn says:

    I’m happy for you that you found your way out. I myself found myself home alone after having my kids around me for over 50 years and went into a big depression, I would cry myself to sleep at night. I couldn’t bear the fact that I was now going to be alone for the rest of my life. And slowly I started back to sewing, and then crafting and it’s like you said it takes your mind off of everything else. I am so happy for finding this group it relaxes me so much. I’m also in another crafting group but Dreaming Tree is so much better, it like I see your svg and I wonder can I make it or not so becomes a challenge to me to see if I can make it. It’s like a stress relief for me. Thank you so much for sharing your story 🙂

  10. Bonnie Smith says:

    Thank you Leo for sharing your wonderful life story! It is very inspirational to all of us! I too believe my crafting has been very therapeutic for me and total takes my mind off everyday stresses to help me be more calm!

  11. Karen says:

    You have hit the nail on the head Leo. Well done, well said! I do my crafting for ME. Others benefit but it is my sanity. Yes, many things are not perfect but most often no one else can even tell. I used to take a tole painting class and would think “ I Hope the tole painting fairy comes to fix it over night.” She always did! It was much better in the morning because I was not as close to the making it part.
    I love my crafts, Cricut, sewing, paper, embroidery, Dreaming Tree, vinyl, 3d paper sculptures cooking, baking, children’s crafts…all of it. It is my brand of sanity!
    Thank you Leo and all people Dreaming Tree!

  12. Liz says:

    Thanks for a very insightful look into your world, Leo! I am glad you found your zen with paper crafting, and oh, guitars too! I think in a way, we all have a similar story.

  13. Cathleen says:

    Thank you for sharing. I live with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSDS) it is a horrible disease causing horrific pain 24 hrs a day. Although I have a Spinal Cord Stimulator to help ease the pain and pain medications there is still pain. Crafting for me is an escape just as it is for you. It doesn’t take the pain away but it makes it sit it in the background. I could go on and on but you hit the nail on the head. Thank you for sharing your life challenges and for helping me create beautiful crafts. Hugs and prayers to keep our little demons at bay.

  14. Tracey says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your story and experiences with us! That takes courage and know that you are not alone. I have always been a very strong person to be able to go through a lifetime of surgeries and health related issues. My entire world came crashing down around me when my boyfriend of 18 years (He was also by choice my psw, housekeeper and chef) was diagnosed in March of 2017 with pancreatic cancer! He was doing amazing, cancer never spread with is rare with PC, and tumor was shrinking. He passed away 5 days before his surgery that doctors were confident would have saved him. He died in front of me, was revived twice, had 4 heart attacks and then passed in the hospital before I could get there to say goodbye. Our cats both passed a week on either side of his passing. Why am I sharing this….because since his passing I have developed anxiety and PTSD. Crafting was the only thing that I could control and it literally saved my sanity!

  15. Gail Rogers says:

    Yes, Leo, congratulations on finding the trail toward healing. I don’t have panic attacks but when the stress gets to me – I HAVE to find something to dive into and surround myself with. My husband of 47 years just had a triple by pass. The worry (would he live through the surgery) and the stress of all the “what ifs” was effecting my body as well as my mind. The walls were caving in on me with the worry of what the future would hold.
    I am an avid counted cross stitcher but couldn’t focus on the counting part so I turned to my next passion DT. I could bury myself in choosing the papers/cardstock and the details of assembly and gluing. Believe me, it helped and I will always remember the days surrounding the completion of that project. I always KNEW that my crafting “helped” me get through the rough times but never thought about the “Why” it works. You’ve put an explanation to the feelings that melt away when I’m crafting…not just for fun! HUGS! Think of all the people who you’ve helped through your journey on the trail.

  16. Lisa says:

    Thanks for sharing Leo. Please know you are not alone. Crafting helps keep me sane and you play a huge part in helping in that regard. Your passion for what you do is obvious and contagious. I can honestly say, I have learned more from you than anyone when it comes to paper crafts. I tell people all the time, “Leo is the bomb and my FAVORITE crafting buddy” even though we have never met. Your Dreamers love and appreciate you greatly!

  17. Shelly says:

    Awesome article Leo. Thanks for sharing. Here is my fault, I get so overwhelmed with how the machines work and how the software works that I quit. I have older Cameo and the original Brother Scan N Cut (which I have not ever used) because my mind is not wired to where I can under the jargon on how to use it. I quit buying kits and haven’t cut a single piece of paper in years because of being overwhelmed. I have had panic attacks all my life. Raising a special needs grandson limits my time in the craft room, but I miss it and wish I didn’t struggle as much with it as I do. It surely is a struggle.

  18. Jeanne Kelly says:

    I am so impressed with your generosity in sharing this personal story. You may be helping so many people with this article in a time where depression and other illnesses are running rampant. I totally agree with you opinion regarding how creating is healing and calming. I couldn’t live without creating, it makes me feel fulfilled! Thank you again for sharing!! 💕

  19. SHERRY d VOGT says:

    Leo…thanks for sharing your very personal story! It is inspiring! Crafting has gotten me through some very tough times….ND your article has made me realize that I need to do more crafting. I truly am happy when crafting. Thanks Leo!

  20. Tuesday says:

    I would like to say I have known many people like this and until recently would not have known what to do to help them , then my husband ran across Gregg Braden the emotion , body code . My friends , family and I , and pets have had this done . We all much happier and joyful after these sessions . We love stella K pilchner if you would like to give it a try . Lots of light and love to you and yours , Tuesday

  21. Maureen Morien says:

    Leo, you are such an inspiration to all us Dreamers. Thanks for sharing your personal story with us, I was nearly in tears, very emotional. I started crafting after I was medically retired from Nursing, following major back problems. I love crafting, all sorts but I’m relatively new to 3d work and have Leo sitting on my desk while I follow his instructions. Thank you for being you xx

  22. Janet Kelley says:

    Leo, I know that what you say about crafting in any shape or form is so beneficial for everyone. I have always loved to craft and started when I was a little girl. I went through like most people very sad and unhappy times and wished that I had crafted my way through them. As I got older and had more time for crafting I soon realised how it made my life so much happier. I Quilt, sew,crochet, knit, paper craft, do garderning, and anything else that takes my fancy and feel so totally relaxed and happy when I do them. I have also made lots of friends through crafting. They should prescribe crafting instead of pills and start Crafting Workshops on the National Health which would benefit so many people instead as you say prescribing these horrible pills. I loved your story and know it will help a lot people. God Bless You.

  23. Ruth says:

    This explains sooo much. The zen zone (flow) that has surprised me so often when I realize it is 2 am and I need to be up in a few hours. I didn’t realize that crafting and reading may have been helping me in my traveling in a car issues that I still have but are better. I didn’t realize that it could help with grief. Thanks for the articles. What a blessing that you shared them , specially your personal story.

  24. Susan Robson says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Leo, I’m sure that a lot of people will relate to it, myself included. Crafting is my ‘happy place’ and has helped me through tough stages of my life many times and I’m certain will continue to do so. My mojo for paper crafting has been missing for a while (but will return as its my first ‘love’) but I’ve still been crafting…knitting so keeping my hands and mind occupied. X

  25. Linda Hughes says:

    Beautiful words and I really enjoyed reading your story. I have to tell you that watching your tutorial videos is one of the most relaxing things for me, your voice is incredibly soothing and now I understand why, you are in the zone when you are crafting! THANK YOU!

  26. Noel says:

    Dear Leo, Thank You for sharing your own panic attack issues while helping out so many others. My only child, age 38, is a drug addict. I suffer health issues that can make life, well trying to say the least. Panic attacks are real! I, too, found that while I’m creating something, I find peace. Even if I mess up and have to redo something five times, I don’t get upset. If I know who I’m creating for, I get filled with wonderful, warm memories of that person. Again, Thanks for sharing your story. You reached a lot of people with the same problem.

  27. vivian olver says:

    Thank you Leo for sharing this condition with us. I too have learned how important being creative is in my life. And my doctor agrees. When I’ve gone stretches without crafting, my life gets so out of whack . When I am creating all the outside vibrations pause. I am not brooding, not eating inappropriately, or not sleeping outside of bedtime. Getting my Cricut Maker was a wonderful thing. I now have very few cutting machine frustrations. The most important thing though, is my association with Dreaming Tree. For the first time I could expect almost zero problems crafting. The fact that you and your team cover every aspect of creating a project translates into almost guaranteed success. No detail is left out. Even on a strict budget I can afford any DT offering.
    You, your team, and this company has made you all well loved. Thank you.

  28. Bea says:

    Thank you so much, Leo. Your message is excellent and so true. Blessings to you and all that you do. And I agree with Linda (the message before mine). Your tutorials are so relaxing and soothing!

  29. Deb says:

    How cruel society is if you don’t follow a chosen path, Just because you don’t follow to do what everybody else does not make you broken. Choose the path less taken its much more fun and the rewards are greater. Most of my so called idols are dead because of drugs taken because they couldn’t reach goals fans set for them by others. Do what you do because it makes you happy. You can’t love others till you love yourself. We all have gifts and talents finding what they are is the true success of life. We are all God’s children and God doesn’t make junk. Your successes came from what your heart told you, not medications or special doctors. You are your own healer. God Bless

  30. Nancy Pechinski says:

    Thank you so much for making that connection! I recently realized that when I don’t create I have more anxiety and the inability to focus on anything. I felt that I am hardwired that way and cannot go against my nature with out disastrous effects. I am sharing this article on my face book page. Thank you so much for sharing something that most people don’t want to acknowledge let alone share with thousands of strangers.

  31. vgmiller says:

    I started playing guitar, art, crafting, sewing, painting, jewelry making as a child and still do these hobbies plus more. I’m always creating and never experienced what you went through Leo. I’m happy you found solace in playing the guitar and making cards. I’m sure everyone is glad that you create svg’s for all of us to use in our cards for our therapy. Having hobbies relieves stress and enhances creativity plus it gives you something to do in retirement. Helps you live longer. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing your story with all of us. I’m sure it will help people heal and lead a better life. Maybe what’s wrong in the world could be overcome by people taking up a relaxing hobby or listening/playing music. I know it has helped me during my life as everyone has ups and downs. Another thing that has helped me and especially my disabled husband is having a pet especially when you become an empty nester. Seniors in nursing homes do better when volunteers bring in service animals for visits and some nursing homes allow residents to live with their pets in their rooms.

  32. Tina Gostling says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Leo! I can totally relate and agree about crafting being a way to “re-wire” the brain. Now, if I could find the one or two crafts that I would rather do than the hundreds, I would be more than happy! So would my bank account!..LOL

  33. Chris says:

    We all have a story it seems on how we got to where we are/ I new zip about scrapbooking. My daughter who had major health issues got heavy into Creative Memories and was just starting her new life when she a mother, passed suddenly. When we went to get her belongings I remember packing all this stuff and I do mean a mountain of crafting albums/supplies/paper for a long time. We dragged it all home. We also had to face either giving her daughter to a non existent dad or fight for guardianship of this precious 5 year old. I gave friends whatever they wanted from the boxes. It was probably a year before Cricut arrived and my bestie said we had to watch the infomercial and investigate. We are now 16 years later. Our granddaughter is almost 21 and honestly if I didn’t take that step well, who knows. It has been my life ever since and I lost my bestie about 5 years ago to cancer. I would sit and cut her pages out as she was so sick and she scrapped her grandbabies early years. I miss my daughter everyday but my soul was saved and mostly my sanity raising a child during the most difficult of times. When I found SVG.com early on in your career Leo, then you expanded and we are now able to enjoy and get out of the rat race our brains are wired for. If I lose a day in my room so be it. I can’t express my gratitude. Thank you,

  34. vivian sanchez says:

    That is so true! I suffer from depression and have for over 30 yrs. I take an antidepressant every day. I’ve told friends that when I’m crafting, I feel so relaxed and nothing is on my mind but the thing I’m creating, it’s such good therapy. When I’m crafting, I’m NOT killing anybody, so it’s not only good for ME , it’s also good for the potential victim…. juuuuuust kidding…. LOL

  35. sharonftonkin says:

    Wow I found that so inspiring. I have always been an anxious person and its worse as I get older. Break out in a cold sweat over the smallest thing!! I have just started crafting and find it an a relaxation method. It has taught me to slow down and take time to smell the daisies. Loving all your designs .

  36. Ginger Favret says:

    Thank you Leo for your story. I knew you were something special and now I know why. When I first spent my money on my Cricut Maker along tons of supplies, I had a sick to my stomach feeling of guilt. I then convinced myself after having had 2 years of being full care giver to my sister, who has dementia and is now in a home, I deserved a treat. I was mentally stressed to say the least. I have learned that it is therapeutic using my Maker but most of all I can’t imagine using it without Dreaming Tree’s wonderful files and your assembly videos are a must. I like how you take your time and explain each step. I pause and rewind and finish with a project that I am proud of. Thank you so much Leo for being there for all of us.

  37. Linda Stinger says:

    My craft room is my therapy room. I have said that all along. It feels good to create. Thanks for telling us your story!

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