How DIY Projects Are Helping People Through the Pandemic

The skills DIYers are using and learning during the pandemic come with benefits far greater than that heady feeling following a well-executed home repair.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, DIY home improvement projects are booming like never before. Large retailers such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s have reported a significant growth in sales since the COVID-19 lockdowns began, with lawn maintenance, landscaping, painting, decorating and general home maintenance particular areas of focus, according to an October 2020 study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

If you’re among the many digging in, know that benefits often go beyond fulfilling your DIY dreams and catching up on household to-do lists.

The Health Benefits of DIY

While necessity may drive a lot of these home-based construction efforts — revamping living spaces to make room for kids studying remotely, adapting backyards for social-distanced entertaining and converting outbuildings into home offices or personal workout studios — DIY interests can also be a healthy way to cope with some of the stresses of the pandemic.

Clinical psychologist Donna Novak, who has helped her clients with the challenges of living through the pandemic, says there’s strong scientific evidence that a lot of good can come from DIY endeavors. “Acquiring new skills and hobbies during a stressful period such as coronavirus can definitely help aid in depression and anxiety,” she says.

Further support of Novak’s experience: A 2020 study by the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology. It found that people who engaged in DIY activities, such as home improvement, crafts, artmaking and woodworking, experienced improved mood and overall feelings of well-being.

Better Your Skills (and Your Outlook)

The search for skills reveals a willingness to learn new things, which is a clear indication of one’s capacity to adapt to change — an essential life skill to have.

Researchers have long found that learning new things can lead to invaluable health benefits. In a letter published in Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. Joel Salinas, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, explains that learning boosts brainpower like exercising makes our bodies stronger.

“Possibly, it’s the creation of new brain cell connections, which may lead to more paths for information to get where it needs to go,” he says.

And thanks to the wealth of instructive YouTube videos, step-by-step how-tos and classes, unlocking new-to-you DIY skills no longer requires in-person instruction. As anyone with a smartphone knows, you can learn “virtually” anything online, from unclogging a drain to replacing a furnace filter to building a compost bin.

Turns out those home improvement projects serve as a healthy substitute for dining out, sports, travel and other types of face-to-face community-based entertainment — all the things we should avoid right now.

While engaging in do-it-yourself projects can’t replace spending quality time with close friends and family members, it can benefit us in other ways. Like sharpening our thinking, giving us a purpose and fostering feelings of accomplishment.

This was certainly true for Paul Bailey, a professional corporate trainer who says he thrives on being busy and productive. Suddenly finding himself out of work due to the pandemic, he decided to look into woodworking, though he’d never built anything before or even considered himself handy.

His first project involved making a table from pallets for his backyard gazebo. “It was a rough-looking job, but I actually enjoyed it and thought I would make a foot stool as well,” he says.

Bailey went on to take a cabinetry-building course through DIY University, which led to more classes and more projects — building cabinets, a kitchen island, end tables, a headboard and more. Next up: Painting the kitchen cabinets and adding trim and a backsplash. He says his newfound skills helped to relieve stress and provided a sense of purpose and achievement.

“My discovery of DIY during this time has provided an opportunity and a direction I will follow until or if my work turns around,” Bailey says. “There is something good that comes out of every difficulty if we look for it.”

Helping Future You

The skills learned and practiced during quarantine are likely to leave behind long-lasting rewards — and not just that new deck or refreshed living room to enjoy with friends and family in person. Creation-as-coping flexes a mental muscle that will serve you well into the future.

“When you are able to shift your thoughts, feelings and behaviors towards improving yourself and trying new things in moments of crisis or stress, you are building coping skills and confidence,” Novak says. “Essentially, you are growing as a person, which will be something that will most certainly help you, post-pandemic.”

Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.