Every crafter knows the sense of calm that comes with working on a repititious stitch. That zen-like feeling when your fingers are flying fast to create something beautiful has real health benefits and, in a time when our society is suffering from a mental health epidemic, I think these health benefits are worth discussing.
“I knit so I don’t kill people” – it’s a funny sentiment I’ve encountered many times in various places on the internet, on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and tote bags, but it has real-life significance. More and more reasearch is coming out to show the very real connection between knitting/crochet and the “relaxation response” which helps to reduce stress and improve mood in the person crafting. Research seems to suggest that the repititive hand motions combined with the mental work of counting stitches and figuring out complex stich patterns is what helps to relax your body and mind with crafting.
This relaxation response has important applications. One article talked of a woman who teaches parents of babies in the neonatal intensive care how to knit. When they are waiting at the hospital during long surgeries or simply while sitting vigil at their child’s beside, knitting/crocheting can help to pass the time and calm their nerves at the same time. This same idea is being used with some success in pain clinics in Britain to distract patients from their pain. While your mind is engaged on your knitting it literally cannot focus on your pain.
There’s also evidence to suggest that those repetitive motions help people with anxiety and depression to live in the moment and not ruminate over the past or worry about the future. When you’re engaging your body in creating a physical object you have to shift your focus away from your troubles to the project you’re working on. Some psychologists are using this to teach their patients important skills: mindfulness, taking time for oneself, and building self-esteem by developing pride in their finished products to name a few.
Another way knitting/crochet is beneficial is when crafters come together to knit/crochet. All the benefits of the actual craft are combined with the benefit of social engagement. This can have the effect of informal group therapy. Attending a Stitch and Bitch is a great social gathering for those coping with some form of social anxiety because it allows you to choose your level of engagement. It’s perfectly reasonable to limit eye contact, for example, because you’re typically looking at your work and not at the other people at the table with you. Starting conversation is made easier as well because knitting and crochet become the obvious topic for discussion.
My favourite quote I read called knitting a “constructive addiction” because it can be used to replace other unhealthy habits such as smoking, binge eating, obsessing over past events, etc. Making something that can be put to practical use can give you such a sense of accomplishment. So continue feeding your constructive addiction; knit a sweater, crochet a hat, and take one small step towards better mental health.
Let’s keep the conversation going! How has knitting or crocheting impacted your life?
For more information about knitting and crocheting for mental health, please consider reading one or more of the following articles: