Knitting Needles, Brushes and A Little Creativity to Get You Calm

Birgit Bauer
Written by
Birgit Bauer

If you ask me what calms me down and relaxes me, my answer is unequivocal: knitting.

Many believe that knitting has an effect similar to yoga. Focusing on a pattern and immersing yourself in another world of thought can help you to concentrate better and to relax.

You will rarely catch me without needles and wool in hand. Even on trips I carry some “travel knitting” with me. Mostly socks because they’re so portable. Would you like a pair? I have more than a few spares!

I’ve been laughed at for being the constantly knitting lady, but I just ignore it. Have for years. Because when I knit, I get to tune out the universe, focus wholly on my pattern, reciting it mechanically like a mantra, and then suddenly, the stress of my day melts away. My thoughts are given license to dance about freely, and I never quite know where they will end up.

While those with far fewer pairs of knit socks may go into a tailspin in the face of a problem, I simply make my way to a quiet corner and knit a few rounds. It helps me to relax, re-think and come up with a far more creative solution. Be more efficient and stay centered. That’s my goal.

I adopted knitting in a situation that was rather unpleasant. I was about to have an operation and was absolutely panicking. A well-meaning but annoyed woman pressed a bag of white cotton, a pattern and some knitting needles into my hands and said, “Just knit – it’ll calm you down!” At the time, I thought, ‘she’s nuts,’ but I gave it a try anyway.

The knitting worked. I was able to relax and thankfully came through the operation well. Frustration never arose, even in the weeks of recovery that followed. My knitting accompanied me everywhere I went. No matter the location, in the waiting room for a check-up, at the hospital, on the bus on the way to the doctor… I simply knitted my way through! A few weeks later, with a little help from some experienced stitchers, I finished my first sweater. I was so proud of my achievement. And I’ve been hooked on needles ever since. Knitting needles that is.

Nothing has changed in the 20 years I’ve been knitting. Every time I’m frustrated, upset, depressed or just tied in knots on the inside, I knit.

Researchers have vindicated my antics. They have discovered that handicrafts – that is, knitting, crocheting, sewing, painting or sculpting – are calming, but can also help with quieting depression or chronic pain. Working on crafts acts as a natural “antidepressant”. Dopamine, popularly known as the happiness hormone, is secreted while knitting and ultimately lifts mood.

Scientists have also found that cognitive skills are exercised through these activities. Cognitive skills include, for example, perception and the ability to plan and coordinate. Everything we do with our hands demands exactly that. We must be able to take in what is currently happening, plan ahead, and then coordinate our movements and thoughts in such a way that we can complete our handicrafts as desired. With a lovely piece of homespun beauty to boot!

The simple fact is, crafting helps train the brain. And for people living with MS, that’s a really good thing. While everyone’s brain, MS and non-MS alike, may lose cells and not regenerate them, it is absolutely capable of creating new pathways that support and challenge the brain.

So I say this to everyone who has laughed at me for my knitting habit: The era of labeling handicrafts as “quaint” and ridiculing people with knitting needles or crochet hooks is long gone. Not only is crochet very much in fashion right now, but the value of these arts on the body and mind is abundantly clear.

Could there be any better way to do something nice for yourself and to support your own health? I think not.

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