As my bit to raise awareness of mental health awareness week and in an effort to reduce my own anxiety I am going to go on record and out myself. I AM A KNITTER (and a crocheter, and a card maker… well generally a pretty crafty person), but let’s just focus on the knitting for the time being. My mum is a knitter too and she taught me how to knit a long time ago. The basics aren’t too difficult, you just need to know how to cast on, knit, purl and to cast off and you’ll be able to make yourself a decent enough scarf to keep you warm in the winter.
My love for knitting wasn’t instant however, it took me a while to learn mostly because I was quite impatient and just wanted to be able to do it rather than having to practice. But I did learn the basics and always used to do a bit of knitting here and there. The best things I made as a child were a scarf for a soft toy bear and a cushion cover made out of 4 simple knitted squares which we had to make in school.
This is when I first noticed the positive effects of knitting… as my mum had already taught me how to knit I was a few steps ahead of the other kids in my class and it was considerably easier for me to get to grips with it all and as a result I did a pretty good job. It gave me a real sense of achievement. It was something real, something that I made myself using just some string and two needles.
After those first adventures into knitting it took me several years to develop a real love for knitting, but over the last 10 or so years I have always been knitting, there has always been at least one knitting project on the go, be it a nice woolly hat in the winter, some little socks for friends who’d just had babies, or even a nice scarf. Particularly during my time as a PhD candidate I’ve found knitting helped me switch off, which really isn’t that easy when you think about the same subject for most of your waking hours!
Now you might ask yourself what all of this has to do with Mental Health Awareness Week, let alone with anxiety, but you might be surprised to hear that a growing body of research has been emerging over the past years looking into the health benefits of activities such as knitting and other crafts, but especially looking into the link between knitting and wellbeing by reducing stress and anxiety.
Researchers at the University of Cardiff conducted an online study among knitters and found that those who knitted more often were significantly more likely to say that they felt calm and happy. This led them to conclude that “knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to wellbeing and quality of life”, but at the same time calling for more structured research into to the positive effects of knitting on mood.
Other researchers at the University of British Columbia have looked into the positive benefits of knitting for patients recovering from anorexia nervosa. The results of this study showed that over all patients that were part of this study felt that their levels of anxiety were going down when they were knitting. Almost three quarters said that knitting helped them clear their minds of any preoccupations about their eating disorder and the same amount of study participants also said that knitting had a calming effect.
This is a relatively new research area and many of these results need further exploration to pinpoint what exactly it is about knitting that gives these benefits, but some have argued that the concept of flow may have something to do with it. This concept has been developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a positive psychologist who has been working in this field since the late 1980s, and includes the following characteristics:
Complete absorption in the activity and diminished awareness of the external environment
- A sense of oneness with the activity
- Total immersion in the present moment and a lost sense of time
- Lost fear or anxiety – everyday worries fade as people become increasingly engrossed in the activity
- Immense feelings of personal satisfaction – the activity is rewarding in itself
Yes, it definitely applies to knitting! Often when I pick up my knitting needles and start getting into it I forget where I am and feel at one with the project I am working on at the time. I often lose track of time and my brain switches off and just concentrates on the knitting pattern. Being able to see what you have achieved is great and it definitely does give me ‘immense feelings of personal satisfaction’ and having others tell me they like what I made is nice as well!
So can you think of any activities that absorb your mind and make you get so engrossed that you lose track of time or something that gives you immense feelings of personal satisfaction? Go on give it a good go next time you feel anxious or stressed about something. It might make those negative feelings go away!