Knitters across the world say it's simply the best therapy, but why? Is there any substance to these claims?
Knitting forums are full of comments about the therapeutic benefits of knitting and we all know that knitting makes us feel good, but have you ever stopped to wonder why?
It's already known and accepted within the medical profession that occupied people feel less pain and depression, so that's a good start. However, the large amount of anecdotal evidence suggests that knitting has much more to offer. It isn't simply about keeping people occupied with an activity they enjoy. It's not just 'old fashioned' occupational therapy either. There's a lot more to knitting than initially meets the eye!
The rhythmic repetitive movements of knitting are important - quite how, is not absolutely certain yet, but there are many theories. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that they induce a form of meditation very similar to Mindfulness. Recent research has shown that Mindfulness can be very effective in treating depression and chronic pain. It can also help those who are fit and healthy to combat stress and to manage life's downs. It helps you to put into perspective any traumatic issues that would normally dominate your waking thoughts helping you to find a stable balance between problematic events and feelings and more positive, pleasant sensations within the current moment. It's a state of mind where you're not mulling over the past or fretting about the future.
Rhythmical repetitive movements are interesting in another respect. Research by Dr Barry Jacobs of Princetown University in the States has found that repetitive movements in animals enhance the release of serotonin. Serotonin levels are low in depression, it's an analgesic, it's calming and low levels of it decrease pain thresholds. So it could be that the repetitive movement of knitting is causing the release of this chemical and could explain why knitters feel less pain, feel calm and report improved mood.
Many knitters say they use their knitting to manage anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and conditions such as asthma, where calmness is important. Of course the portability of knitting means you can carry your calming remedy around and use it when and wherever you need. This portability makes knitting, along with some needlework projects, unique in the craft world.
The automaticity of knitting is important, too. It occupies some areas of your brain, whilst freeing up others. Many find that this enables them to 'zone out' to become 'mindless'. This gives your mind a mini break from any problems, enabling you to escape into the sanctuary of a quiet mind. This brings down stress levels and breaks into negative or ruminating downward thought cycles.
It is believed that the mild addictiveness of knitting is important because it enables it to take the place of other addictions. Many knitters use their craft to lose weight, prevent binge eating, to stop smoking, conquer alcohol cravings and prevent self harm. It can also improve the constant checking and rechecking symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Sufferers are replacing a destructive addiction with a constructive, beneficial one and this makes breaking the link with their addiction and the transition back to normal life much easier. Knitting also occupies the mind and hands which is an important aspect as it physically stops some addictions such as smoking.
Of course the end product is important and although other activities and crafts have an end result too, the advantage that knitting has is that it can be achieved without requiring an iota of artistic talent and without mess or expensive tools. It can be done from an armchair or wheelchair without leaving home. This all makes knitting an ideal craft for all abilities and age groups in most situations - in hospitals, schools, workplaces and in bed if you have problems sleeping. It also cuts across class, culture, language and intelligence providing a universal tool that can be used as a key to motivating and improving quality of life and raising self esteem.