Did you know that getting your hands dirty maybe the key to health; especially mental health?

A discovery that illustrates a relationship between working with your hands and your mood has been made by a psychiatrist and a hand surgeon; Drs. Carry and Alton Barron. Their book, “The Creativity Cure”, is a prescription for avoiding and alleviating depression.

Together the doctors made a single simple observation – when their patients were using their hands “their mental health improved.” Dr. Carry Barron noticed a pattern of people who were coming into her office talking about activities they had done with their hands over the weekend and describing how those activities had lifted their mood.

As an example, one very depressed patient took the opportunity to fix something that broke in his apartment over the weekend and in doing so fixed his mood! He said he had not picked up a toolbox in 20 years, but he felt a sense of euphoria after putting his hands to use.

Being a hand surgeon, Dr. Alton Barron witnessed, “the significant mood depression that occurs when people lose the ability to do what they need to do”, whether they were craftspeople or ordinary people hindered in their day-to-day tasks like cooking a meal or tying their shoes.

He saw this same correlation in patients whose condition was as common as a torn rotator cuff and those who had more seriously impeding limitations from their conditions.key in hand

Thinking about it more carefully, the Barrons realized organization of the brain applies 60% of its surface area to our hands and their function. This devotion of a vast number of neurons to the working of the hands led them to conclude it’s not a coincidence we are seeing so much anxiety and depression today, because people are not using their hands.

What their findings tell us is simple.

We need to use our hands to stimulate our brain. When we don’t or can’t, or mood suffers.


The Root of the Problem

We are not making things with our hands as the United States as we once did. Manufacturing and crafting are being done off-shore at increasing rates. Many of the products once made by hand, such as furniture are now mass produced. Tasks as simple as hammering a nail are replaced with pneumatic tools, eliminating the tactile use of our hands.

60 years ago, 80% of people were engaged in doing something with their hands on a daily basis. Today only 13% of the population works with their hands regularly. You may argue the time spent on our computers and other electronic devices keeps our hands busy. However, the doctors have discovered this to be untrue.

They agree that in today’s society we are super saturated with technology. We are constantly hunched over our smart phone texting, typing, and swiping. The problem is these activities are not engaging our brains in the same way as other dextrous work. This difference is not preventative of anxiety and depression.

Homunculus drawing

The Homunculus shows us how the brain is “mapped” to the body.

Drs. Barron see it as a matter of life and death that we change our lifestyle, and follow their own prescription by using their hands daily. Dr. Carry plays the guitar, writes in longhand/cursive every morning and knits. Dr. Alton plays an instrument, as well as fixes and builds furniture. All of these activities engage our hands in activity that more fully stimulates our brains.

They also keep their children away from too much technology and get them to use their hands in active ways. Activities like cooking as a family activity, playing instruments, and gardening all provide the needed engagement.

Getting the best benefit from using your hands

First and foremost – put down the smartphone and back away from the computer. (When you’re done with this article of course.)

Next, get busy. Doodle, fix things, make music, write a letter to a friend, etc. Get others to join you!

My personal suggestions as your very own psychiatrist, do not allow the schools to take cursive out of the curriculum. This is not only a valuable skill for writing faster, but also a critical development element for our kids. It’s one simple step you can take to prevent the risks of mental health instability in our children.