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Knitting for Health

Fighting stress and anxiety

Knitting for Health

Personal feedback from many people who have taken up knitting a crocheting seems to indicate that both of these pastimes assist in focusing the mind and dealing with stress and anxiety, as well as providing that ‘feel good’ factor that comes from creativity.

Whether it’s making Afghans, baby blankets or clothing for adults or even bedding the act of knitting or crocheting it seems that the nearly automatic actions involved allows people to focus on the here and now – especially useful when having to listen attentively to someone.

In the United States there seems to be a renewed interest in both knitting and crocheting. The Craft Yarn Council has issued information that indicates that up to one third of women between the ages of 25 and 35 now knit or crochet.

Even medical practitioners have come out in favour of the hobbies. Well known author of “The Relaxation Response,” Dr. Herbert Benson has said that the repetitive actions involved in needlework lead to mental states that closely resemble those of people who engage in yoga and meditation.

Once the initial learning stages have been mastered needlework can lead to the lowering of the heart rate, as well as lowering blood pressure. The levels of cortisol, which has been associated with stress are also lowered. Of course the production of a tangible product also enhances self-esteem.

The Council has kept records of thousands of needlework aficionados ever since the 1990’s and these hobbyists have provided feedback on the positive benefits, including stress relief and creative fulfilment. It seems that both knitting and crocheting can help people handle work stress and clam thinking, which in turn assists with problem solving.

However, the hobbies can also help people cope with other challenges. A life coach named Karen Zila Hayes from Canada who manages knitting therapy groups has announced that she has seen improvements in people who are striving to quit smoking. She also runs “Knit to Heal” which assists people in coping with health issues such as a diagnosis of cancer or the illness of a family member. Similar programs in schools and prisons show that knitting and crocheting also help students and inmates calm themselves, as well as enhancing social skills. The complexity involved in many patterns has also benefited children’s maths skills.

There’s also some evidence to suggest that keeping both hands and mind occupied can help those who are struggling to lose weight. The focus required and the physical activity means that there’s less time for boredom and the attendant urge to snack. The physical activity can also help those who are suffering from arthritis.

A 2009 University of British Columbia study of nearly 40 women with anorexia nervosa who were instructed in knitting skills found that mastery led to significant improvements. Seventy-four percent of the women said the activity lessened their anxiety and kept them from repetitive thinking about their problem.

A life and wellness coach in Bath, England, Betsan Corkhill and author of the book “Knit for Health & Wellness,” set up a website, Stitchlinks, to explore the value of therapeutic knitting. 54 Percent of clinically depressed users said that knitting made them feel happy or very happy. In a study of 60 self-selected people with chronic pain, Ms. Corkhill reported that knitting enabled them to redirect their focus, leading to a reduction in their awareness of pain.

Research has also suggested that crafts like knitting and crocheting could potentially help to stave off a decline in brain function which has been associated with aging. In a 2011 study, researchers led by Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., interviewed a random sample of 1,321 people ages 70 to 89. The results of the study which were published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, found that those who engaged in knitting and crocheting had a reduced chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.

There are other studies that support this finding. A 2014 study by Denise C. Park of the University of Texas, Dallas demonstrated that learning to quilt or do digital photography enhanced memory function in older adults. Given that sustained social contacts have been shown to support health and longevity, people wishing to maximise the health value of crafts might consider joining a group of like-minded people.

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