When my friend Nancy Monson’s mother was diagnosed with dementia earlier this year, the challenges of caregiving coupled with the intense emotional strain sent Nancy’s stress levels skyrocketing. How did she cope? By pulling out her art supplies and making mixed-media collages featuring her mom. The creative outlet calmed her frazzled nerves and helped her work through her grief, she told me.

Monson speaks not only from personal experience but also from professional expertise. As a certified health coach and author of Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting, and Other Pastimes, she has done extensive research on the psychological and physical health benefits—including stress reduction—of creative hobbies. For instance, she reminded me of a classic study, cited in The Journal of the American Medical Association, that found that women who sew experience a significant drop in heart rate and blood pressure, perhaps because such creative pursuits allow the body to rest from the pressures of everyday life.

In other words, the magic of crafts is that they distract you from your worries and let you focus on the simple joys of the here and now. But to reap the benefits, you need to approach your creative activities the right way, Monson noted. Otherwise, crafts can become a source of annoyance, ratcheting up rather than relieving stress. Helpful…

Give yourself permission to craft. Many women feel that they’re being too self-indulgent if they take time to pursue a hobby when they “should” be working, cleaning or caretaking, Monson said. So instead of “shoulding” all over yourself, reframe your inner dialog—reminding yourself that your craft is like an essential vitamin that supports your health and well-being.

Pursue crafts that suit your personality. Are you a detail-oriented, organized person? You’ll get great satisfaction from activities that require precision and planning, such as quilting, beadwork, decorative painting, mosaic, embroidery or woodworking. If you’re a spontaneous, embrace-the-chaos kind of woman, give yourself some messy good times—for instance, with pottery, abstract painting, fabric dyeing, collage or gardening. Best: If an activity feels tedious or frustrating, drop it and try something else…keep experimenting until you’ve discovered several hobbies that you truly enjoy.

Choose the right activity at the right time. Having a repertory of different crafts allows you to match your activity to your mood. For instance, when you’re feeling frustrated or angry, you can release those emotions through a highly physical hobby such as metalwork, sculpting or felting. When you’re in need of soothing, try a rhythmic, repetitive activity such as knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching or rug-hooking.

Share the joy with fellow crafters. The stress-busting effects of crafting increase synergistically when you combine your hobby with some socializing. To find new friends who share your passion, take a class in your favorite art form or activity…attend a hobbyists’ conference…or participate in a crafts fair. Resource: For an online guide to arts and craft workshops, schools and retreats, visit Art.ShawGuides.com.

Adopt a beginner’s mind-set. Trying to exceed your skill level too fast will only add to your stress, so resist the urge to judge yourself harshly if a project does not wind up looking like the masterpiece that you originally envisioned. As Monson said, “Crafts are not meant to be taken too seriously—that’s what the rest of life is for. So don’t ruin the fun by being a perfectionist.” Instead, focus on the process and not the product…taking pleasure and finding peace in the very act of creating.