How Knitting and Crocheting Improves Mental Health
The therapeutic and calming benefits of knitting and crocheting are intuitively clear. But research shows there is scientific evidence, too.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week in May, we are looking at the health benefits of knitting and crocheting. Both have been shown to help with conditions such as depression, stress, anxiety and dementia. When knitting alone people can achieve a state of mindfulness, and knitting and crocheting in groups provides vital social interaction that is so often missing in our modern digital community.
We reached out to the Deramores knitting and crocheting community, and many people shared their own personal stories, which we share below.
Research Shows Handicrafts Reduce Anxiety, Depression
Everyone who enjoys knitting, crocheting or other handicrafts knows that the result is only part of the benefit. Sure, it’s nice to see that final creation, whether it is a sweater, a scarf or a decorative doily, but we all know that if handicrafts were purely a means to an end, we would all be straight off down the shops instead.
The key aspect to any handicraft is in the act of creation as much as in the end result. How many times have you spoken to someone who loves knitting and asked what they are making and for whom only, to be met with a slightly puzzled look followed by a quickly improvised answer?
Mental health benefits of creating
Just like sketching, playing the piano, cooking or woodworking, crocheting and knitting are pastimes that people enjoy doing simply for the act of creating something unique.
The idea that doing something we enjoy and find rewarding is good for our mental health and puts us in a better frame of mind is no great leap of logic. However, there is solid medical research to suggest that the benefits of knitting and crocheting go far deeper.
Scientific evidence and community experience
Studies carried out by bodies including the Mayo Clinic, the Harvard Medical School and even the NHS have found solid correlations between handicrafts and medical and physical health. These have been borne out by some of the feedback from our Facebook community:
Back in 2007, Harvard Medical School published a paper that found knitting reduced the heart rate by as much as 11 beats per minute, reducing anxiety and creating what it calls an enhanced rate of calm.
Kate Newberry shared her experiences. She said: “I was suffering lots of anxiety during quite a stressful period of my career. I was working from home so quite isolated too. I was introduced to crochet, and later knitting, and my anxiety levels nowadays are practically nil.”
Staving off loneliness
Kate also made the point that since taking up handicrafts she feels she is “part of a worldwide movement and community.” That sense of belonging is also hugely important for mental wellbeing, particularly among the elderly.
A 2011 report by the mayo clinic described knitting as “a sociable activity that helps overcome isolation and loneliness, too often a feature of old age.” Elaine Williams agreed. She told us: “I lost my husband three years ago, I was suffering from depression finding myself on my own after a long marriage, knitting and sewing is very therapeutic for me.”
Dementia and Knitting
The total cost of dementia to the UK is currently around £26.3 billion, and it is set to rise as the population grows older. While knitting cannot cure dementia, it can provide people with something to focus on, as well as providing social interaction through knitting circles. Many elderly people have very little social interaction, and loneliness has been linked to dementia – knitting really can help some people with this condition.
Many nursing homes also encourage residents to knit, often with groups knitting for charity, such as Residents and staff at Briarfields Care Home in Shrewsbury who started a ‘Knit a Square for Malawi’ project to help orphaned children in Africa. This not only provides an activity to keep the brain and body active, but also reminds people that they still are able to help others through their work, which can boost self-esteem and confidence.
Anyone suffering from chronic pain through, for example, arthritis or rheumatism might think that knitting would be that last thing that could help. However, the evidence suggests otherwise. The repetitive movements can help keep joints and muscles active, reducing the effects of certain conditions.
In addition, the mental relaxation provided triggers the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that brings natural feelings of wellbeing, pain reduction and can even help your body maintain better sleep cycles.
As Melisa Bell explained: “I have a lot of physical issues, I walk using a walker and I tire very easily. Crocheting keeps my hands from getting stiff.”
Knitting Helps Alison Dempster’s Post Traumatic Stress
Alison was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress in November 2017 and needed time off work - it was a difficult time for her. She describes herself as being always 'fragile'. She found support through her knitting group: “Knit and stitch group were there for me with an ear, a chat, a laugh and of course some knitting and crochet. I am not sure how I would have got through without them.”
Alison’s group made Twiddlemuffs, which were a big success. However, they found that some gentlemen felt they were a bit too feminine, so she free form crocheted a tool belt twiddle, a tool belt complete with six crocheted DIY tools with Twiddles on them. It brought great comfort to the gentleman who received it and the thank you card received from his daughter humbled Alison - she even commented that Alison should 'be on dragon's den'. After initially laughing the suggestion off she decided to try to create some patterns to publish one day.
Alison’s idea grew, thanks to her counsellor: “Whilst at counselling I mentioned my Twiddles pattern idea and my therapist noticed how I came alive and confident whilst talking about my designs and ideas, he wholeheartedly recommended that I should focus on publishing my own patterns (I decided on a pattern book) as this was great for my mental health.”
Alison is now back at work and her head is full of ideas for new patterns and this is helping her cope with her stress and anxiety issues.
Knitting Provides Nichola Wilks’ With a Sense of Community
Knitting has helped Nichola to cope with Chron’s disease. Read her account here:
“I have Crohn’s disease, arthritis, asthma, and I’m currently under investigation for Multiple Sclerosis. I also suffer from Anxiety and depression. These are incredibly painful, isolating conditions on their own, but all together they’re often a nightmare. I spend a lot of time in bed, in hospital or sitting on the sofa, so I needed a way to occupy my mind.
I learned the very basics of crochet when I was a small girl, when my wonderful Grandma Jose showed me. After losing her in 2007, I thought I would never be able to relearn the skill, but undetermined, I bought a kit, and the rest is history.
Through crochet I’ve made many friends online, which gives me a sense of community that my illnesses often deny me. I’ve donated numerous pieces to charity, especially premature baby units, as these are close to my heart. It gives me a great sense of joy and achievement knowing that somewhere I’m helping in a tiny way.
If I have low mood, I’ll pick up one of my many works in process and do a few rows, it helps me focus, and in many ways is how I achieve mindfulness, especially if I’m following a complicated pattern. At other times, making a repetitive design such as simple granny square or rows gives me a sense calmness and normality.
I always take a piece of crochet when I’m admitted to hospital, sometimes I don’t even get to do it, but knowing it’s there in my bag just helps.”
Crocheting has also helped her son, who suffers from autism: “He thrives in a mainstream school, but as his issues are mainly sensory, he’s sometimes takes a little Star Wars stormtrooper I made him in his pocket, so he can squeeze him when he’s anxious.”
Knitting Gives Caitlyn McCall “Breathing Space”
Caitlyn McCall was bullied at school for over 8 years and her confidence was at an all-time low. She found that crochet was something that she was genuinely good at and didn’t need to rely on others to enjoy it, as a result her confidence grew the more she learned and mastered.
Today, Caitlyn suffers from borderline personality disorder, anxiety, stress and depression. Whilst it is all controlled as much as possible with medication, she finds that crochet is her go-to therapy.
“I find that being able to sit quietly with either a pattern I know well enough to do without reading pages of notes or a newer one that I have yet to learn, takes me away from any stressors or moments of anxiety. It reminds me that I am a worthy and creatively, talented individual. The repetitive nature of the stitches is almost hypnotic and very calming and seeing an item come into beauty and completion is very satisfying and a positive accomplishment.”
Caitlyn says that you don’t ‘forget’ the issues around you but knitting gives you a breathing space to recharge and to re-focus your energies appropriately. You can then put problems into perspective far easier and with more clarity and deal with them more effectively.
Managing Post Natal Depression
Cara White explained how it has helped with post-natal depression:
“I experienced severe postnatal depression following the birth of my son. Crocheting helped to keep me relaxed and occupied. I loved the repetitive rhythmic nature of crochet it really helped to keep me calm.”
She now runs support groups for families experiencing postnatal depression that involves crochet as therapy.
Has Knitting or Crocheting Helped You?
We wish to express our huge thanks to Kate Newberry, Elaine Williams, Melisa Bell, Alison Dempster, Nichola Wilks, Caitlyn McCall, and Cara White, who kindly shared their stories and experiences with us.
So many others have experienced very positive outcomes from knitting and crocheting. If you have use knitting or crocheting to help manage your own mental health issues, please share your own stories below or on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you!