Get Well with Yarn!
Health Benefits of Knitting and Crochet.
By Kathryn Vercillo
Knitting and crochet are habits that offer the opportunity for deep relaxation. This, in turn, gives crafters a variety of health benefits. It may seem obvious that yarncrafting can reduce stress-related health conditions. However, you might be surprised to learn that there are other significant benefits including symptom relief for mental health conditions as well as the reduction of physical pain. You don’t need to be a master crafter to reap the benefits of knitting and crochet; even learning the simplest stitches can put you on the path to well,
The Many Health Benefits of Reducing Stress
The number one benefit cited by crafters is that knitting and crochet offer relaxation. In a 2018 survey of 8000 people who crochet, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Wollongong Australia, 90% of people reported feeling calmer thanks to crocheting. More than 80% also reported feelings of increased happiness. A 2014 study by the Craft Yarn Council found that more than 90% of knitters and crocheters specifically report reduced stress thanks to crafting.
In our busy worlds, when there are so many things pinging for our attention, it can feel almost impossible to turn off our brains. Tuning into a craft project helps us get into that space. Crafters can take this further by engaging in mindfulness crochet (or knitting). Mindfulness crafting includes:
- Focusing on each stitch, noticing as the hook or needles move through each step
- Paying attention to your breath, including breathing exercises such as inhaling for one row of a project then exhaling for the next row
- Counting stitches, paying close attention to the patterns in your count
Mindfulness enhances the stress-reducing benefits already inherent in knitting and crochet. By reducing stress, you can reduce the symptoms of myriad health problems. Body aches, tension headaches and restlessness melt away as you sink your focus into your craft. Heart conditions, skin conditions and mental health issues may all be mitigated through stress reduction.
The Mental Health Benefits of Knitting and Crochet
Speaking of mental health, knitting and crochet are often mentioned as key tools in self-care for people dealing with a range of psychological issues. The two most common conditions treated with crafting are anxiety and depression. The aforementioned traits of focus and relaxation help to regulate breathing, reduce restless thoughts and soothe the panic of anxiety.
These traits also help interrupt the rumination of the mind, which is a key problem in depression. The depressed mind dwells on negative thoughts, which reinforce the depression; breaking that cycle helps lift the mood. But that isn’t the only way that crafting helps with depression. It has been found that the rhythmic and repetitive motions of crochet and knitting help release serotonin, a key factor in helping resolve depression for many people. Stitchlinks, a nonprofit organization that has been researching the benefits of knitting for over a decade, cites author Carol Hart as one expert on serotonin who believes that the repetitive motions of yarn crafting release serotonin.
Another key way that crochet and knitting help with depression is by helping the person to feel productive again. In depression, it can feel impossible to get up and do even the most basic tasks, and then your mind starts telling you what a terrible, lazy person you are because you’re not functioning at the level society expects. Many people find that the small steps necessary to complete a crochet project are entirely doable.
People can make items that are functional and beautiful to share with those they love. Doing so increases a sense of “ableness” that is self-perpetuating in a positive way. Praise for those items helps to boost self-esteem, which helps lift the person further out of depression. In some cases, people who have become unable to work due to chronic mental illness are able to earn a small income through selling their handmade crafts. Depression expert Kelly Lambert is cited as saying that our own “effort-driven reward circuit”, meaning the internal rewards that we get when completing tasks with our own hands, not only adds to the serotonin release but also releases dopamine and endorphins, which further enhance positive feelings.
There are additional specific benefits for people struggling with other mental health problems. For example, some people living with OCD have found that knitting or crochet helps to interrupt their cycles, so that they don’t have to do their compulsions. People with Dissociative Identity Disorder report that the tangible activity of using a hook (or needles) and yarn can help them to stay grounded and remain in their bodies.
Crochet and Knitting Through Grief
Grief is a unique situation that isn’t quite a mental health condition but has some of the same features. It is something that unfortunately we all have to experience at one time or another in our lives. Even though we know that, when we go through it we often feel very alone. Knitting and crochet have been found to offer an amazing array of benefits for people as they process their grief. Author Ann Hood begins her memoir of losing a child titled Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, with the line, “Knitting saved my life.”
Knitting and Crochet for Chronic Pain
People living with physical disorders also experience many benefits from knitting and crochet. Much of this comes from the mental health aspect of chronic physical illness. For example, the same features that boost self-esteem and help people in depression feel productive through crafting will benefit those people with limited functionality at home. Knit for Peace conducted a comprehensive study that found knitting to engage the mind, body and emotions in a way that distracts from pain, while also benefiting the physical body through relaxation.
Many people living with chronic pain find that focusing their attention on the details of a crochet or knitting project will help them “forget about the pain”. Crafting is something that people may turn to when they want to relieve pain without medication. For example, many pregnant women on bedrest spend their hours with yarn in hand, not only to pass the time, but also because it helps with the pain and anxiety of the experience. There are notable physical benefits of knitting and crochet beyond distraction from pain. The serotonin release can serve as a natural analgesic to relieve pain.
Knitting and crochet are affordable, portable, easy options for improving wellness. People with serious chronic conditions can benefit, but so can anyone else who seeks a bit more relaxation, a boost of happiness, and the great feeling that you are doing something productive with your own two hands.
Kathryn Vercillo is the author of several books on crochet health including Crochet Saved My Life. She publishes a monthly crochet newsletter through Patreon.