Hobbies that calm you down: Knitting

Dishcloths

By anna saccheri from Palo Alto, United States (Knitted Dishrags) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m pretty sure everyone knows the stereotype about Grandmothers or old women in general, sitting in the front porch on a rocking chair knitting a scarf or a sweater or mittens or socks for the young ones and themselves. It’s a very common stereotype and one which has been used in the media a lot, especially the old looney toons cartoons. But the truth is anyone can knit, it isn’t something exclusive to old ladies and some people can come up with some really awesome and creative designs when they knit.

The question I want to ask is whether there is a psychological benefit to knitting; after all knitting is a hobby and hobbies are therapeutic, so that is going to be the topic of discussion in this post.

First of let’s talk about what knitting actually is. According to this Wikipedia article, knitting is the method in which we manipulate and use yarn to create a kind of textile or fabric of our choosing. When we knit we use needles to create multiple loops of yarn called stitches to create rows of interlocking loops. Different types of yarns, needle sizes and stich types can be used to create different types of fabric. Knitting can be done either by hand or by using a machine.

Okay now that we have that out of the way, let’s look into the benefits. In this article in the blog bestofeverythingafter50.com, titled “Knit Your Way to Cool, Calm and Healthy,” the author talks about her personal experience with knitting and why she does it. Here is a list of some of the benefits she mentions in the article:

  • Knitting Enforces Mindfulness Meditation
  • Knitting Boosts Memory
  • Knitting Reduces Risk of Dementia
  • Knitting Builds confidence and pride
  • Knitting helps you socialise and find new people who share your interests.

Then there is this newspaper article posted on pressreasder.com titled, “Purls Of Wisdom: Unravelling the mental health benefits of knitting” which was originally posted on the Toronto Star on 28 March 2016 by MAY WARREN. The article covers the story one woman who was going through a “classic burnout,” and quit her job and how knitting helped her focus, calm herself and gave her the strength to go back to her normal job. The article mentions a 2009 study done at the University of British Columbia, where 38 women with anorexia nervosa tested the calming effects of knitting. 74% of the women said that knitting helped clear their mind and had a calming effect and reduced the intensity of their fears and worries. The article also mentions a 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, of 1321 older adults, reported that participating in activities such as reading, playing games and knitting, decreased the odds of them having mild cognitive impairment. They even mention a case where a woman named Karen Zila Hayes ran a class called “Knit to Quit” where they use knitting to help smokers stop smoking.

Finally we have another article from the chicagotribune.com titled “The health benefits of knitting,” by Sammy Caiola where they talk about how knitting helps with health (if that wasn’t already obvious from the title). This article talks about the findings of doctor duo Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist and Alton Barron, an orthopedic surgeon. They both swear by the benefits of knitting, saying that it can help against depression and anxiety, and even help prevent arthritis and tendinitis.

In the article the two doctors have this to say: “Using your hands meaningfully triggers healthy engagement and activity in about 60 percent of your brain. The rhythmic, mathematical nature of knitting and crocheting keep the mind absorbed in a healthy way, providing an escape from stressful thoughts but allowing for internal reflection.”

The article also mentions a 2013 survey that was conducted of 3,500 knitters and was published in British Journal of Occupational Therapy. According to that survey when the participants were asked to describe their mood before knitting:

  • 34% said they felt “happy”
  • 23% said that they felt “a little sad” or “very sad”

When they were asked the same question after they were done knitting:

  • 81% said that they felt “a little happy” or “very happy”
  • Less than 1% still felt sad

I don’t know about you but to me those are very compelling numbers. I could go on about the article and the other studies they mention but I think you get the point.

By the looks of it, taking up knitting as a hobby to fight stress may just be a very good idea. So if you feel up to it go ahead and buy your own knitting needles, or you could always check to see if the stereotype is true and ask your granny for a pair. Either way, get those needles moving, that stress isn’t going anywhere fast and those sweaters are not going to make themselves.

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