This article originally appeared as a “President’s Message” in the Northcoast Knitting Guild Newsletter, September-October 2018 edition. My term as NCKG president was June 2018 – May 2019. If you are in the Cleveland/Northeast Ohio area, our guild has educational and fun meetings every month, and many friendly knit-ins besides. Check out our website for more information! Northcoast Knitting Guild
I was planning to write a charming, light essay about fall things – but sometimes longer, darker days bring darker sentiments. So let’s talk about the importance of comfort knitting in mental health. To me, comfort knitting is knitting for relief of anxiety and knitting for calming jangled emotions, or knitting a little gift for someone when I know I can’t do anything else to help them through. Sometimes it’s just comforting to keep my hands busy, because even when I feel helpless, at least I can make pretty stitches.
There have been a variety of studies lately (sources: 1) that are showing that any art or craft that has a repetitive action can produce a contemplative “repair state” or a state of mind that allows thoughts to come up gently and be worked through and set aside. On t-shirts and mugs, knitters and other craft enthusiasts quip that their chosen craft is cheaper than therapy. The joke has been around for years, and now the science is uncovering what we already knew – our craft is incredibly therapeutic. Of course, when additional help is needed, therapy under the trained guidance of a professional is also an important tool.
The joy of making things gives us confidence. The connection of brain and hands grounds us in the real world. When knitting, we can savor a moment of “me” time. My university colleagues that study mental health tell me that “savoring” is an important aspect of positive mental health (sources: 2). We can savor in anticipation, we can savor an experience in the moment, and we can savor the memory of what we enjoyed. The act of savoring pushes back some of the dark cobwebs of negative thinking.
We can also bring together heart and hands and produce something for someone we care about, or for a charity project for someone we don’t even know. Performing acts of kindness is another way in which we can focus on a positive emotion, and give that positive feeling strength over our more negative thoughts. We can create goodness in the world when we create something to give.
While scientists are still mulling over the exact causes, social isolation and loneliness are being considered a public health crisis in our modern age of too much work and screen-time (sources: 3). The solution is likely having more connection in our social networks. For that, we may find that we need craft groups more than ever. Craft groups bring us together in real space and remind us that we are among people who “get” us, people who understand our very specific passion. I don’t know about you, but there is something so comforting about a room full of fuzzy clicking sounds.
These are all tools that we knitters have ready at our fingertips. Aren’t we lucky? If you have someone in your life who could use more tools for their positive mental health, take some time to find out if there are creative hobbies they are drawn towards but haven’t felt empowered to really try. Are there ways you can support their activities? Can you have “craft night” with them? Can you go take a class with them to show that you can go out on a limb with them and try something new? Not that this would replace therapy for someone who really needed help, but you might just be able to foster a passion that also gives a friend some additional tools for better mental health. (sources: 4)
2) https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/10_steps_to_savoring_the_good_things_in_life and also some conversations with various faculty I have worked with in the areas of Clinical Psychology and Occupational Therapy.