Therapeutic Benefits of Knitting: Mindfulness in Action

Therapeutic Knitting Mindfulness in action

Photo Credits: ZenKitty/Babuska; Joathina; Mararie – kindly made available under the Creative Commons License.

It has been well established, through 35 years of research, that stress can lead to mental health problems, and can cause or exacerbate up to 90% of medical conditions.

When I feel stressed, overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious, I just sit down and knit. Knitting slows me down. It grounds me and allows me to get lost in my thoughts.  It make me feel relaxed, in control, and happy. I have always  just known that it makes me feel good!

As a fellow knitter, physiotherapist Betsan Corkhill, also recognized those “feel good” effects of knitting, and has taken this knowledge to whole new level.  Corkhill is the founder of Stitchlinks, an organization which aims to find out more about the therapeutic benefits of knitting. The findings are fascinating!

Knitting is an effective, easily accessible tool that everyone can use to manage daily stresses. But it is also a valuable self-help tool for those dealing with more serious mental health issues and/or medical conditions.  The main conditions that Therapeutic Knitting is used for are:

  • Stress
  • Low mood
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Addiction
  • Eating Disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that knitting can induce a form of meditation very similar to Mindfulness. Recent research has shown that Mindfulness can be very effective in treating depression and chronic pain.   

In  this article, Corkhill writes,

Mindfulness can be a difficult technique to teach, particularly to those who need it the most – the highly stressed, those suffering chronic pain or depression. These conditions make it difficult to concentrate the mind. Knitting is exciting because it opens up the benefits of Mindfulness to everyone.

When Corkhill surveyed over 3,500 knitter with Cardiff University, they found that the more frequently people knitted, the happier and calmer they said they felt.  81% of respondents said the felt happier during and after knitting, and 54% of the respondents who were clinically depressed said knitting made them feel happy or very happy.

Like Yoga, knitting uses physical movements to induce a state of mindfulness and affect a change in your state of mind. It can leave you feeling more in touch with the real world. “It’s the rhythmic, repetitive movements that are important,” Corkhill explains.  Similar to a yoga flow, the rhythm of working the same stitch over and over again calms the heart rate and breathing, creating a feeling of stability and inner quiet.

Research suggests that the rhythmical, repetitive motions of knitting could enhance the release of serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, learning, and sleep. Serotonin is a naturally occurring analgesic (painkiller), and low serotonin levels have been linked to depression and anxiety disorders, as well as decreased pain thresholds.  This could explain why knitters have reported improved mood, feelings of calmness and lower levels of pain.

For those dealing with chronic pain and long-term medical conditions, life can be especially challenging. Through Stichlinks, Corkhill has received many stories from people who described feeling out of control of their lives, worthless, lonely and isolated because of chronic illness. However, the discovery of knitting had a hugely positive impact on their well-being.

First and foremost, knitting gave them something to do during enforced periods of rest. They no longer felt “lazy,” and instead found something productive, creative and enjoyable to do. Forgotten feelings, such as excitement and anticipation, were rekindled and they began to plan ahead, set goals, and experience increased self-esteem. The ability to give gifts or knit for charity gave their self-esteem a further boost.

Many of people who have written to Corkhill about their experiences of therapeutic knitting describe being able to “forget” the pain. Even those experiencing severe pain said that it was effective. Indeed, researchers have found that  the brain can’t concentrate on two things at the same time, and so if you are able to occupy the mind sufficiently, your brain won’t be able to interpret the pain-inducing signals.

Knitting has therapeutic benefits for both the mind and the body. Traditional western medicine tends to treat the body and not the mind, but research has shown that a person’s thought processes and attitude has a significant impact on health, recovery, and well-being.Therapeutic knitting deals with issues of loneliness, social isolation, self-esteem, stress/anxiety, and an unoccupied mind that’s left to ruminate on problems. It can boost confidence, self-esteem, motivation and mood. It can change negative thoughts and attitudes into positive ones.

Whether you are dealing with the daily ups and downs of a stressful, busy life, or dealing with chronic health issues, we all could benefit from reducing the amount of stress we experience in our daily lives.  Being able to ‘switch off’ for a short time every day gives the mind a break and is beneficial to well-being.

So take some time for yourself every day, and knit. You will be happy that you did.

Stay healthy, Be Happy x

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