45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition sometime in their lifetime (https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts). In any one year period, 1 million Australian will suffer from depression, 2 million from anxiety. Australia population in 2015 was 23.7 million.
Knit one. Purl one. Knit one. Purl one. Knit one. Purl one. The rhythmic and repetitive nature of knitting is calming, comforting and contemplative. It’s not a stretch for you to imagine knitting as a mindfulness practice, or perhaps a form of meditation.
Neuroscience is finally catching up on brain health aspects of the trend some have called “the new yoga.” Research shows that knitting and other forms of textile crafting such as sewing, weaving and crocheting have quite a lot in common with mindfulness and meditation — all are reported to have a positive impact on mental health and well-being. Frequent knitters (those who knitted more than 3 times a week) were calmer, happier, less sad, less anxious, and more confident.
Using knitting to achieve a meditative state of mind could enable a much wider population to experience the benefits of meditation, as it doesn’t entail having to understand, accept or engage in a prolonged learning period of the practice. It happens as a natural side-effect of knitting.
Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain, experts say. It may also ease stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by ageing. Creativity is increasingly being recognised as a way to manage these problems. If you are creating something, it connects you with a different part of your mind. Little research has been done specifically on crafting, but neuroscientists are beginning to see how studies on cognitive activities such as doing crossword puzzles might also apply to someone who does complex quilting patterns. Others are drawing connections between the mental health benefits of meditation and the
flow reached while painting or sculpting.
Neuroscientists are beginning to understand how mindfulness, meditation and experiencing “flow” impact the brain. Research shows these practices improve depression, anxiety, coping style in the face of adversity, improve the quality of life, and significantly reduce stress. All vital for maintaining brain health and well-being. Remembers psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as “a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” Flow could potentially help patients to dampen internal chaos. Albert Einstein was reputed to have knitted between projects to “calm his mind and clear his thinking.”
Sewing can bring on a meditative state, calming and helping us to think more clearly. I discuss this in an earlier post here. The repetitive movements can enhance the release of serotonin. Our nervous system is only capable of processing a certain amount of information at a time, he explains. That’s why you can’t listen and understand two people who are talking to you at once. So, when someone starts creating, this existence outside that activity becomes “temporarily suspended.” “They don’t have enough attention left over to monitor how their body feels. They can’t feel if they are hungry or tired. Time just disappears.”
The reward centre in your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine when you do something pleasurable. Scientists believe dopamine was originally designed to make us repeat activities that would help the species survive, such as eating and having sex. Over time, we’ve evolved so that the brain can also release dopamine while we’re staining glass or decorating a cake. Dopamine, in and of itself, is our natural anti-depressant, any time we can find a nonmedicinal way to stimulate that reward centre … the better off we’re going to be.
Our bodies are in a constant state of stress because our brain can’t tell the difference between an upcoming meeting with the boss and an upcoming bear attack. The repetitive motions of knitting, for example, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quiets that “fight or flight” response.
Think about the time you spend doing something creative that you love – maybe it is reading, cross stitching, taking pictures or creating a scrapbook – doesn’t it always make you feel great? Taking the time to activate your creativity and do something that you enjoy allows you time to de-stress and relax while feeling great because you are doing something you love. Research shows that creative practices improve depression, anxiety and coping skills while enhancing the quality of life and significantly reducing stress – all vital for maintaining brain health and well-being.
Creating with fabric is the most rewarding and inspiring process. I feel most zoned in when I am working on a design. I can really feel the difference between a week when I sew and the weeks when I do no sewing or nothing creative.