Knit­ting: a pearler for men­tal health

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

For many, knit­ting is a hobby, a chance to sit down and cre­ate some­thing spe­cial – but as In­dia Hen­drikse dis­cov­ers, it is also a ther­apy.

IF I WAS to tell a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive knit­ting has had a sim­i­lar ef­fect on my men­tal health as tak­ing an­tide­pres­sants, they’d choke on their Panadol.

I also imag­ine their eyes would roll fur­ther back in their head if I said that for the past six weeks, I’ve been knit­ting ev­ery night – a rather rare habit in the life of a 23-year-old ex­tro­vert – and that each time I cross my nee­dles and twirl my yarn, I feel in­stantly re­laxed.

Calm is not an emo­tion I set out to ex­pe­ri­ence, rather some­thing I dis­cov­ered when sim­ply try­ing to keep warm in the cool win­ter months. Yet, with each stitch I made in that first grey, fluffy (al­beit ho­ley) scarf, I felt a lit­tle weight lift off my shoul­ders.

I’m gen­er­ally a yo-yo hob­bier, flit­ting be­tween dreaming of speak­ing Ital­ian be­cause I’ve read Eat Pray Love, to gen­uinely be­liev­ing I will one day be­come a graphic de­signer, sim­ply be­cause I like col­lag­ing cards for friends’ birthdays. With knit­ting though, it was dif­fer­ent. I be­gan to sched­ule it into my day like med­i­ta­tion, so even when my eyes were forc­ing them­selves closed, I’d find the mo­ti­va­tion to fit in 10 min­utes be­fore bed.

It turns out my ex­pe­ri­ence is a com­mon one. Knit­ting is in­creas­ingly be­ing used by men­tal health prac­ti­tion­ers as a ther­apy to al­le­vi­ate stress and anx­i­ety disor­ders.

Bet­san Corkhill, 59, di­rec­tor of UK-based ther­a­peu­tic knit­ting web­site Stitch­links, says the calm often ex­pe­ri­enced through knit­ting is due to its rhyth­mic repet­i­tive move­ment. As an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist, Bet­san has cured count­less cases of panic at­tacks, anx­i­ety disor­ders and phys­i­cal pain through pre­scrib­ing pat­terns over pills.

“We tend to re­sort to repet­i­tive rhyth­mic move­ments when we’re quite stressed. We pace back and forth, we tap, peo­ple who are highly trau­ma­tised will rock, and it’s thought that they’re self-med­i­cat­ing.

“So, there’s very much some­thing in the rhythm of knit­ting that fa­cil­i­tates this sense of calm, this med­i­ta­tive-like state,” she says.

Bet­san pub­lished a pa­per about this with other re­searchers in 2013. The team con­ducted an on­line sur­vey of 3545 knit­ters to es­tab­lish whether the craft has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on men­tal health. After a knit­ting ses­sion, 81 per cent of re­spon­dents said they felt hap­pier, and less than one per cent felt sad. Re­spon­dents also re­marked they had higher levels of cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing.

There are two arms to the men­tal health ben­e­fits of knit­ting, says Bet­san. One comes from the med­i­ta­tive-like state that en­hances the re­lease of sero­tonin (our body’s happy chem­i­cal) in the brain, and the other comes from the so­cial in­ter­ac­tions that can take place through knit­ting. It’s also portable, which makes it a handy tool to slip into your hand­bag and whip out in times of stress.

“It keeps peo­ple en­gaged in so­cial ac­tiv­ity, be­cause once you have a men­tal health prob­lem, it can be­come very easy to be­come iso­lated very quickly, and the more iso­lated you get, the more dif­fi­cult it is to go out, which then be­comes a vi­cious cy­cle,” she says. FOR LYNNETTE GERRAND, 61, work­ing in ad­min­is­tra­tion at a high school in Hamil­ton can be men­tally ex­haust­ing. She is the ears for stressed-out teenagers to vent to, and con­stantly the help­ful hand, whether it’s sort­ing out timeta­bles or dish­ing out plasters. In the evenings, she likes to sit down with her knit­ting in front of the tele­vi­sion, to clear her mind of the day’s work.

“I find it ther­a­peu­tic. It keeps my hands busy while I’m watch­ing TV, it’s a stress re­lease. Es­pe­cially if you’re do­ing some­thing with a pat­tern – it takes you away

from ev­ery­thing be­cause you’re con­cen­trat­ing on that.

“Then of course, at the end you can feel good be­cause you’ve made some­thing,” she adds.

The re­ward of knit­ting is very im­por­tant, says Bet­san. “We have a cir­cuit in our brains called ‘the re­ward sys­tem’, and this sys­tem fires off a boost of feel-good, pain-re­liev­ing, mo­ti­vat­ing chem­i­cals when you’re suc­cess­ful at a task that re­quires a lit­tle bit of ef­fort.” AN UN­FOR­TU­NATELY com­mon mis­con­cep­tion with knit­ting is that you have to be a craft-ob­sessed fe­male to be suc­cess­ful at it. Paul Sil­via,

40, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of North Carolina, quashes this stereo­type, say­ing all peo­ple are in­her­ently creative.

“We have big, hun­gry brains that are eas­ily bored. We all find new ways to solve prob­lems, make up new recipes, and so on, and these ev­ery­day mo­ments of creativ­ity are eas­ily over­looked,” he says.

In 2014, Paul trav­elled to New Zealand on a Univer­sity of Otago fel­low­ship. A col­lab­o­ra­tion with New Zealand pro­fes­sor Tam­lin Con­ner saw the pair pro­duce a wealth of re­search study­ing ev­ery­day creativ­ity. Young adults, 658 of them, were sur­veyed about their daily creative habits. The gen­eral con­sen­sus re­vealed peo­ple were more creative on emo­tion­ally pos­i­tive days and less creative on emo­tion­ally neg­a­tive ones.

Paul says the link be­tween creativ­ity and hap­pi­ness is a vir­tu­ous cy­cle. “When peo­ple feel cheery, it’s eas­ier for them to come up with clever, creative ideas. And creative hob­bies boost well­be­ing for a lot of rea­sons.” The re­search con­cludes that pos­i­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal func­tion­ing can be ob­served by look­ing at a per­son’s out­put of creative ac­tiv­ity.

So how far away are we re­ally from knit­ting break­ing into main­stream men­tal health ther­apy? Bet­san’s ther­apy is proof that knit­ting is not lim­ited to a par­tic­u­lar age group

– the youngest per­son she’s helped was 12 and the el­dest, 93. Men can also reap the ben­e­fits. Just last year, Rolle­ston Prison near Christchurch be­gan a knit­ting pro­gramme for male pris­on­ers. The men knit blan­kets for an­i­mals at SPCA Can­ter­bury; it’s a ther­a­peu­tic ac­tiv­ity that fos­ters creativ­ity and self-ex­pres­sion.

The main bar­rier, though, to ther­a­peu­tic knit­ting gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity is the stigma sur­round­ing it. It’s often stereo­typed as some­thing only your granny does. In other ar­eas of the world though, as in the UK, Bet­san says the prac­tice is catch­ing on. Her knit­ting ther­apy is funded by the Na­tional Health Ser­vice, and she imag­ines it will slowly take off on an in­ter­na­tional level. IN THE MEAN­TIME, I have my week­ends fig­ured out; break­fast in bed fol­lowed by a spot of knit­ting has never sounded bet­ter. As a re­sult of knit­ting a sec­ond scarf – this time, a lovely for­est green – my mind feels freer, the anx­ious thoughts that once plagued it sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ished.

As a wise woman, writer Annie Dil­lard, once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are do­ing.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.