Knitting as Self-Care

It wasn’t until I was in my Masters program for Clinical Psychology that I ever heard the words “self-care.”  Self-care was drilled into our teachings, due to the fact that burn-out is high in healing professions.  When I think of this, what always comes to mind is the speech given by flight attendants before takeoff,

“In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth….  If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.”

Clearly, it is imperative to help yourself before you are able to help others.

Yet, since my educational years, I hear ‘self-care’ used quite often, in many different contexts, many of which are unrelated to the psychology field or other helping professions.  This little phase seems to have caught on, and we are all, no doubt, thankful.

Self-care is so important because it keeps us fresh, clear-headed, and motivated.  It allows us time to re-charge and experience life’s pleasures.  Self-care increases productivity.  It gives us feelings of well-being.  And if you are in a healing or caring profession (this includes all the mothers out there), self-care increases empathy, compassion, and your ability to provide to others.

The best part, self-care means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What may be self-care to me, may not be self-care to you, and vice versa.  Also, there are many activities out there that could be self-care if only I had the time or interest to try them (i.e. surfing, painting, martial arts, running, _____________ fill in the blank).  Therefore, here, I want to discuss interesting forms of self-care, specifically, knitting.

Maybe knitting is already your self-care and you didn’t know it.  Maybe you knew knitting was your self-care, although it wasn’t really your intention to be such; you just like to knit!  Maybe you’ve never tried knitting before, but could dig it.  Or maybe you think knitting ‘is for girls’ or for ‘nerds’ and wouldn’t think to touch it with a 10 foot pole.

Well think again!

Knitting is for everyone!  As long as you are willing and show a little interest, knitting might just be the best thing that ever happened to you, as far as self-care is concerned.  And if you already believe this whole-heartedly, well, as they say, keep on wit’ yo’ bad self!

Here are nine reasons why knitting is therapeutic and an excellent self-care tool:

1.  Knitting increases focus and attention:

Depending on the project you set out to make, the effort required to knit something varies.  On the more difficult projects, such as socks or a sweater, you most likely will follow a pattern that requires great attention and focus.  There certainly will be counting and some math involved, multitasking on different parts of the project at the same time, fine motor skills, spatial relations, and eye-hand coordination.  Research demonstrates that these kinds of tasks, particularly motor tasks, increase cell and brain development in the areas of thinking and focused attention (Schwartz, E., Knitting and Intellectual Development, 2012).  Therefore, by knitting you may be improving your academic and vocation abilities.

2. Knitting cultivates brain laterality

Brain Laterality refers to the ability to use both hemispheres of the brain.  Although we do use both sides of the brain, many of us have one side of the brain that is more predominant than the other.  To very simply summarize this process, the left side of your brain is more rational, analytical, logical, and linear, while the right side of your brain is more social, emotional, experiential, creative, and deals with interconnection of parts to create a whole (Siegel, D., Mindsight, 2010.)  If you are one who tends to be more left brained, you may be cut off from your emotions, rigid, and resistant.  If you are one who tends to be more right brained, you may be very sensitive and have difficulty regulating emotions.  Research demonstrates that cohesion between both sides of the brain, left and right hemispheres, allows for increased feelings of well-being, as one is able to better balance various aspects of life, the logical and analytical, as well as the emotional and spiritual (Siegel, D., Mindsight, 2010.)  Specifically, knitting helps to increase brain laterality, or cohesion of both brain hemispheres, because the creative process of knitting activates the right hemisphere, while the mathematical and spatial aspects of knitting activate the left hemisphere.  Also, knitting requires the use of both hands which naturally activates both hemispheres of the brain.

3. Knitting allows for silence and stillness:

Silence is golden, and seemingly harder to find these days.  The world seems to be going faster and faster, with the internet, cell phones, social media, and all those dang apps, we hardly have any down time anymore.  Therefore, in order to slow down and make time for ourselves we must make a committed effort and serious action to rest and decompress from the day’s events.  Knitting gives you the space for this.  It is the time when you can, and probably should, turn off the computer, TV, cell phone, etc, and just be quiet and still.  Trust me.  You’ll thank me later.

4.  Knitting is a form of meditation:

In a traditional meditation practice you focus all your attention on a neutral area of the body, usually your breathe.  You notice the sensations of breathing as you sit in stillness and silence.  When a thought, sound, emotion, or some other distraction arises, you notice the distraction, let it got and then return to the sensation of breathing.  The principals are the same with knitting.  However, while knitting your focal area will be your hands and fingers.  Focus your attention on the sensations of knitting; the yarn running across finger tips, the throwing of the yarn, the movement of the needs, the clicking sound of the needles, the texture of the stitches, the weight of the yarn, etc.  When you notice a thought or another distraction, simply notice it and when it no longer holds your attention return your focus to the sensations of knitting.  In this way, you are increasing present moment awareness and not being swayed by thoughts of the past or future.  As in any meditation, present moment awareness increases mood regulation, empathy and compassion, feeling of well-being, relaxation, immunity, and resting functions of the body.

5. Knitting is calming:

Anyone who has ever knit before will tell you how relaxing it can be.  After you learn the basic skill and technique, your hands go on autopilot and you don’t even have to think about how to make each stitch.  The subsequent relaxation that this cultivates is due to “flow,” which is defined by a Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as “a few moments in time when you are so completely absorbed by an activity that nothing else seems to matter” (Wilson, J., This Is Your Brain on Knitting, 2014).  The repetitive movements of knitting induce flow by centering your attention on the task at hand.  This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, or the part of the brain responsible for rest, relaxation, and reparative functions of the body (Wilson, J., This Is Your Brain on Knitting, 2014). 

6.  Knitting induces faith:

In knitting, you create something from nothing.  It is faith that gets you through that process.  In order for it to work, you must believe that your repetitive movements and skill will build stitch upon stitch to create something new and unique.   And when I say “new,” I mean new.  Don’t be stuck in the traditional conventions of knitting, scarves, socks, sweaters.  You can literally make anything you want.  For example, Olek, a knit artist based out of Poland, has knit the Wall Street bull, full body suits, her house, and even under water, among many others!  If that doesn’t take an act of faith, I don’t know what does.

7.  Knitting increases self-esteem:

Once you are done knitting something, anything at all, a sock, a buoy, or just your first row, you will feel pride.  That is guaranteed.   Knitting is a task that when completed you feel successful.  Also, knitting is a safe way to increase self-esteem, because it is usually a very neutral task; there isn’t much riding on whether or not you are a good knitter.  Therefore, by practicing knitting you will most definitely increase feelings of confidence.

8.  Knitting tackles perfectionism

Inevitably when you knit, you will make a mistake; you might drop a stitch, create the wrong kind of stitch, forget an important aspect of the pattern, decrease or increase too few or too many, etc.   Yes, you can go back and fix it, but depending on how far down your project the problem lies, it might be quite a hassle.  Also, probably no one will notice your knitting mistakes, except for maybe you as the creator.  This is a lesson, not only in patience, but in embracing imperfection.  Fix what you can and let the rest go.

9.  Knitting teaches acceptance:

Ah, acceptance.  The hardest and most profound lesson in life.  Because you will make mistakes, because mistakes are inevitable, you will struggle with letting go and accepting things as they are.  Just remember this:  in knitting and in life, there will be difficulty.  Allow that difficulty to be what it is, rather than avoiding it, trying to change it, or get pissed off about it, just sit with it.  When you do you will find that things can naturally change and unfold into something amazing.  Use knitting as a tool to start this process.  In that way, knitting is a more tolerable metaphor that you can practice to help you with life’s more serious difficulties.

 

* This blog post was a collaboration project for AK Kerani, a company dedicated to promoting mental health and wellness through knitted fashion. Click here for the direct link for this article featured at AK Kerani.  Be apart of the movement to erase the stigma of mental health.  Comment below to get involved in mental health awareness. *