National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: A Mindful Approach to Discussing Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  As a mental health professional and specialist in the area of suicide prevention and crisis response, this topic is very important to me and the work that I do.  Furthermore, my own personal battle with suicidal ideation and mental illness has enabled me the understanding and empathy needed to work with this challenging topic. 

Due to the cultural beliefs around suicide and mental illness as a whole, most people find it very challenging to share openly about their personal experience, not only about mental illness, but simply just about challenging times. People tend to think that difficult emotions and mental illness are a sign of weakness and inferiority, and we prefer to portray ourselves in a certain light, one that we feel is favorable to others.  Unfortunately, we also tend to believe that our self-worth and confidence is directly dependent on our successes and good fortunes.

Under these circumstances, why would we ever want to share openly about our pain and suffering?

It is here that we propagate the vicious cycle of stigma, shaming ourselves into pretending that nothing is wrong, covering up our wounds with the Band-Aids of distraction, and never fully allowing ourselves to heal. 

As challenging as it is to talk about, our willingness to discuss the topic of suicide is paramount to erasing stigma and getting help to those who may be suffering. 

It is your vulnerability and imperfections that make your strong, relatable, and worthy of your deepest heart’s needs and desires. 

A mindful approach to this discussion begins with radical acceptance that mental illness plagues all of us.  None are immune.  Whether you yourself experience the symptoms and behaviors of a mental disorder or not, you at least know someone who does. In fact, research shows that 1 in 3 people will have a psychiatric disorder in their lifetime (Kessler et al., 2004).

Just think about that for a moment.

A simple Acceptance and Commitment Therapy exercise to grasp this idea of prevalence of mental illness is to imagine every single person you know in your life.  Imagine that all these people are standing shoulder to shoulder in a very long line.  Now imagine that you are standing before this line of all the people you know.  See their faces, recall memories of activities with them, allow yourself to really see them and feel whatever emotions are brought up by your experiences with them.  Now imagine that you move through this line from the beginning and all the way to the end, counting every third person.  Recognizing that every third person is likely struggling with mental illness, and maybe even suicidal ideation. 

Imagine the magnitude of this. 

Be it directly or indirectly, we are all affected. 

The second piece of approaching this topic mindfully is to increase awareness about the automatic thoughts, emotions, and judgments that are brought up by the discussion of suicidality and mental illness.  It’s best to begin by using a mindfulness practice to connect to your breath and cultivate calm and stillness.  Naturally allow thoughts, emotions, and judgments to arise.  Simply label the thoughts, emotions, and judgments as you become aware of them.  Avoid any judgments about the thoughts or emotions.  Simply just allow them to be there without trying to change them in any way. 

Keeping this practice in mind, let’s discuss the myths commonly associated with suicide. 

Myth 1: It’s NOT “normal” to think about suicide.

Suicidal ideation, or thoughts about suicide, are fairly commonplace in the world of mental illness.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “more than 9 million adults reported thinking about suicide in the past year” and “more than 1 million adults reported making a suicide attempt in the past year.”  Furthermore, the CDC reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans, putting up there near Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke.  However, this number drastically increases when reviewing suicide among certain age groups, particularly our youth, such that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among ages 10-14 years old and the 2nd leading cause of death among ages 15- 34 years old.

Myth 2: Those who commit suicide don’t warn others.

Often there are many warning signs that are communicated verbally or non-verbally by someone who is considering suicide.  These can include the following:

·      Excessive moodiness or mood swings.

·      Severe anxiety and agitation.

·      Changes is personality or having a sudden sense of peace.

·      A loss of sense of purpose or meaning in life.

·      Severe hopelessness and worthlessness.

·      Experiencing a recent crisis or trauma. 

·      Withdrawal from friends, family, work, and responsibilities.

·      Reckless, acting out behaviors, that are often risky in nature (i.e. promiscuity, substance abuse, excessive spending, socially inappropriate behaviors, etc.).

·      Self-harming behaviors (i.e. cutting, burning, hitting head, etc.).

·      Overt discussion and questions or preoccupation with death and dying.

·      Making preparations and getting their business in order (i.e. creating a will, giving away possessions, cleaning house, etc).

·      Making passive statements such as, “I wish I wasn’t here.” Or “I can’t do this anymore.”

Myth 3: Those who talk about suicide are just attention seeking.

As mentioned above, people who are thinking about suicide often send out warning signs, trying to communicate their distress, as well as to seek help.  This is not merely attention seeking as a way to boost self-esteem and self-worth.  Rather, these individuals are crying out for help by seeking care and understanding from others, as well as a way to managing their difficult emotions.   

Myth 4:  People who think about committing suicide want to die.

People who think about commit suicide often DON’T want to die, rather they want to find a way to end their pain.  Hopelessness and despair, a common symptom of depression and anxiety, is the thought or feeling that pain and sadness will never go away.  Individuals experiencing hopelessness often feel paralyzed by their suffering and believing that the only way to end it is by result of their death. 

Myth 5: Suicide is selfish.

Another common symptom of depression and anxiety is worthlessness, which is just the opposite of selfishness. Worthlessness leaves people believing that are no good, not deserving of love, and that the world would be better off without them.  People who struggle with thoughts of suicide almost always feel useless, insignificant, and unimportant. 

Myth 6: Symptoms of mental illness, such as thoughts of suicide, are strictly due to a chemical imbalance.

Although it is true that some mental health symptoms, such as suicidality, may be due to a chemical imbalance, this is not always true.  Research shows that other times mental illness may be caused by some combination of medical problems, genetic vulnerabilities, situational experiences, trauma, poor mood regulation, and a heightened arousal to stress (Harvard Health Publications, 2009).

Myth 7: Talking about suicide with someone who is showing warning signs may encourage them to attempt suicide.

Asking someone about suicide does not assist them in any way in carrying out their thoughts or plan.  If anything, the more you can assert yourself in inquiry about suicidal ideation, the more likely you will be viewed as a strong support who will not be easily scared away.  If you observe the warning signs of someone’s potential suicide, get talking with them.  Ask them questions. This will allow you to learn more about their experience, express your concern and empathy, and work with the individual to create a safety plan for their care and wellbeing.

One final mindful approach to this topic is to take care of yourself. 

Suicide is a very difficult topic that can cause secondary trauma to the supportive others and helpers.  In discussing this, you will naturally rouse personal thoughts, feelings, and judgments that may be very challenging and may lead to your own feelings of sadness, anger, helplessness, exhaustion, or burnout. 

Begin to take care of yourself by cultivating a self-care practice, including unplugging from technology, using mindfulness to connect to your 5 senses and find stillness, getting some exercise, getting out in nature, developing a gratitude practice, or giving back to your community.  Please see my article here for more tips of developing a self-care practice.

Lastly, check out the resources below for more assistance:

  • 911- Crisis emergency assistance
  • 211- Los Angeles County Community Resrouces
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
  • Los Angeles County DMH Access Line: 1-800-854-7771

9 Self Care Practices to Manage Your Desire to Succeed

My latest blog post  was published on PersonalGrowth.com

Have a strong desire to succeed and always improve?  Then you are hard-working and driven Go-Getter.  The world is your oyster. Seriously, You're amazing!  

Step up your game by giving yourself a much deserved self-care routine, that will assist in further success by attending to your need for rejuvenation.

In my new article published on PersonalGrowth.com, I detail 9 self-care steps that are sure to manage your stress levels and renew you for your next work endeavor.

Read the full article below...


Self Care Practices to Manage your Desires to Succeed and Allow you Time to Just Be

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In a fast paced world and with a desire to always improve and be better than the next, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up and maintain the satisfaction of success.

As a self-proclaimed “perfectionist,” I know this feeling all too well.  The desire to produce and succeed often results in losing sight of the purpose of our hard work.  We become resentful, exhausted, and burned-out.  

Our society and culture has taught us that it is productivity that creates success; “The key to success is hard work and determination.”  And while this may be true at times, isn’t there more to life?

Although most have a strong desire to succeed, don’t we equally have a strong desire to just ‘be?’  Be quiet, be still, and be free.  How many times have you fantasized about a day with nothing to do, where you could just lay on the couch and relax or engage in a leisure activity of your choice?  No tasks, no chores, no deadlines.  Just sweet, sweet, quiet. 

If you fantasize about this often, then you likely need a self-care routine to balance your productivity.  Dedication and hard work are very important, but so are rest and relaxation.   In fact, it is times of quiet and stillness that allow us harness creativity, recharge and refuel, and ultimately produce effectively.

Here are 9 self-care practices to assist you in letting go of your desire to ‘Do’ and increase your ability to ‘Be.’

1.     Learn to say “No.”

Let’s face it, there is never enough time in the day to complete all the tasks and activities our hearts desires.  Therefore, in order to maximize on what’s really important, you have to learn to say “No” to all the extraneous stuff, particularly the tasks or activates that keep you from behaving in line with your values.  Ask yourself what NEEDS to get done and then ask yourself what you may be willing to let go of in order to manage self-care.    

2.     Unplug from technology.

Yep, that’s right.  Turn it off.  I know it’s difficult, but just try it out.  Remember you can always turn your tech back on, so no need to worry for too long.  You deserve it.  Turn off your smart phone, tablet, computer, and even your TV.  It’s time to get quiet.  

3.     Find stillness.

Schedule some time to get quiet and become still.  Start by connecting with your breath. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.  Notice your belly rise as you breathe in and notice your belly fall as you breathe out. Take a full deep inhale through your nose.  Pause, then begin to slowly breathe out your nose.  Pause, completely emptying out all the air from your belly.  Repeat this 5 more times and you will be on your way to finding stillness.  

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4.     Connect to your 5 senses

Connect to your sense of sight.  Look around the space you are currently in and begin to internally label the things that you can see around you.  Connect to your sense of touch.  Without moving, begin to internally label the things that you can feel.  Notice the weight of your body as you sit or stand, notice the feeling of clothes on your body, and notice the coolness of air on your skin.  Connect to your sense of sound.  Become aware of the distant sounds that are outside of the room you are currently in, just noticing.  Then direct your attention to the closer sounds just inside the room you are in, internally label all the things you can hear.  Maybe bring your sense of sound even closer and see if you can hear the sounds inside your body, your heart beat, your breath, etc.  Move on to connect to your sense of scent.  Notice all of the things that you can smell in the space around you, internally labeling these.  Lastly, connect to your sense of taste.  Become aware of the things that you can taste, as well as notice any absence of taste that may be happening.

5.     Move

In your free time, try to get moving.  Go for a walk, take a yoga class, ride your bike, go to the gym, dance, or whatever get’s you going.  Literally.  Movement and exercise improves your healthy in so many ways.  We all know about the physical benefits of exercise, including managing weight, cholesterol, heart health, and improving sleep.  But did you know that exercise and movement also can also improve your emotional and psychological wellbeing? Research has shown that exercise also regulates mood, improves symptoms of depression, increases feelings of happiness, improves cognition and memory, and may even increases self-esteem and feelings of self-worth and confidence. 

6.     Participate in nature

There is something so healing and restorative about connecting to nature. This is about taking a break from worldly stressors in order to keep things simple and return to basics.  Breathe the air, smell the trees, see the colors, and get dirty.  Return to your roots and connect with the earth.  You could even ‘kill two birds with one stone,’ figuratively speaking of course, and get out into nature and move at the same time by taking a hike, flying a kite at the beach, gardening in your back yard, or taking yoga at the park. 

7.     Develop a gratitude practice

Try to get into the habit of identifying gratefulness.  Dedicate a specific time in your day to use this practice, such as first thing in the morning when you wake up or right before lying down to bed.  Identify three things to be grateful for.  These can be as big or as small as you like.  When you feel particularly challenged in identifying things to be grateful for, just keep it simple.  Maybe you are simply grateful for your morning coffee, a kind word from a stranger, or even a fleeting feeling of contentment.  Even in times of difficulty, we all have something to be grateful for. 

8.     Be kind to yourself

Can we be mean to ourselves, or what?  We have got to be better at this!  Our private thoughts about ourselves can be just awful.  We wouldn’t dream to make such negative statements to any other person, so why do we do this to ourselves?  If you find yourself with unkind and unhelpful thoughts, engage in a technique called Thought Stopping by noticing the negative statement, pausing, and then stating out loud to yourself, “Stop it,” “Knock it off,” or “Shut up,” stopping that negative thought dead in it’s tracks.  Then choose a thought that is more kind, or if not kind, at least useful.  Ask yourself, “Is __________________ (Thought; E.g. “I’m worthless”) useful for a vital and meaningful life?”  If the answer is no, choose another thought that is more useful.

9.     Give back

Last, but not least, don’t forget to give back.  Get active in a cause that is near and dear to your heart.  Volunteer, advocate, or just lend an ear to a loved one.  Often times we get so busy with our own personal dilemmas and stresses that we lose sight of the bigger picture, leading us to feel small and disconnected.  So, get involved in something that it outside of you and your benefit.  Use your skills and areas of expertise to offer a helping hand to someone.  The rewards are not just your own satisfaction of offering assistance, but you may be the impetus in changing someone’s life, which has the potential to reach to countless other individuals.  The sky is the limit!

Parenthood Prep Presents Sexy Self-Care: Mindfulness for Parents and Caregivers

Feel a little run down in your parenting or caregiving skills?  If so, Parenthood Prep has the perfect solution for you........

Sexy Self-Care!

You need it.  I need it.

Let's get it on!

I am so happy and honored to have been a part of this video series to help inspire parents to get their sexy back.  In my episode we talk about mindfulness and how this can help caregivers to manage their stress and difficult emotions so they can increase awareness and be fully available for their loved ones.

Here are some of the tips we discuss further in the video:

- connect with your breathe and physical body

- less doing, more being

- practice self-love

- make mindfulness a daily practice

- present moment awareness can increase the quality of life and improve relationships

Drama, Drama, Drama

In a recent debate with a friend, I discovered there is quite a lot of misconception around the word "drama" and how it is used.  This seems particularly important when discussing mental health, as the derogatory way in which the word "drama" is so commonly used may be seriously impacting stigma.  

Don't get me wrong, I am certainly not exempt from this.  I am simply discussing it here now to raise awareness about conflict and the natural and appropriate emotions that arise during conflict.  

"Drama" as defined is the acting out of a conflict.  I think we can agree there is nothing negative about that, it's just a part of life.

I mean, I don't know about you, but I act out many conflicts regularly.  From my commute to work, to a disagreement with a co-worker, to a full blow argument with a loved one, it's all conflict.  Not the end-of-the-world type conflict, but definitely conflict that is present in life.

So ask yourself this: How many times have I used the word "drama" to explain a situation or person?  Where any of these explanations constructive?  

If your use of the word "drama" sounds something like, "He/She is being dramatic" or "He/She is all about the drama" or "I want to avoid the drama," chances are you are actively contributing to a situation that is actually creating "drama," or better said, more conflict.  

Making these kinds of statements is kind of like saying, "You/They are crazy."  It's just not ok.  

Furthermore, drama, or conflict, is a natural process of socialization and relationship, so it really can't be avoided, nor should it be looked down upon.  We all run into conflict eventually.  The trick is finding a way to address the conflict appropriately, so as to keep the "drama" minimal and proportionate to the difficult situation.  

When one uses the word "drama" in a derogatory way it really is  just a poor effort at trying to categorize a situation in which an individual is reactive, has instability of mood, or is acting out conflict in an unhealthy way.

Everything else, is just conflict.  Not "drama."

Ok, fine.  So what do I do about it?

Well, I'm so glad you asked :)  

Let's discuss some important steps at conflict resolution to decrease "drama" in your life.....

How Do I Manage Conflict Appropriately, Minus the "Drama"?

1. Speak directly to the individual you have a conflict with.  

Talking behind peoples backs is hardly ever a good idea.  And I am not talking about about venting to a close, supportive other here.  You might need to share your thoughts and discuss your concerns with others before you address the conflict with the targeted individual directly, as a way to gather your thoughts, get thoughtful advice on how to address the individual and the conflict, etc.  What I am talking about here is taking your personal conflict and sharing it with another person in a manipulate way without addressing the issue with the targeted individual.  

First, this is passive aggressive and completely unhelpful.  Second, it can be down right mean, depending on the language you use behind the targeted individuals back (i.e. sharing potentially damaging personal information about the targeted individual, name calling, sharing biased information, etc.).  

Put simply, if you would not say the information directly to the individuals face, then you shouldn't be saying it at all.

If you have an issue with someone, go to them directly.  Come to them with an open heart and mind and voice your concerns in a kind and compassionate way.  When handled appropriately, the potential benefits are huge.  Also, at the very least, you will be respected for speaking up for yourself and doing so with kindness.

2. Use "I" statements.

When you use an "I" statement you 1) directly state the problem, 2) state how the problem makes you feel, and 3) state what you need to have happen in order to move forward in a constructive way.  By using "I" statements you are engaging in assertive communication, while at the same time getting your needs met appropriately.  Try this example on for size:

Image you are sitting in the passenger seat of a car.  Your loved one is driving the car.  The loved one has had a very difficult day and is feeling frustrated and taking it out on the road in a fit of 'road rage.'  They are swerving around cars, cursing, and a few times you thought they were going to get in a serious accident.  You are nervous and becoming increasingly annoyed at the way they are driving.

You responded to this conflict by saying, "What is your problem?!!  You are so crazy right now!  Why do you always drive like a maniac?  Slow down and get it together!"  

But the driver only becomes more upset and now you are in a full blown argument while driving down the road together and the 'road rage' has just doubled.  

Now image the same example, but this time your response is calm and compassionate and you use "I" statements for appropriate conflict resolution.  You might say something like, "I've noticed that you may have had a rough day today.  I feel nervous that you are going to get into a car accident.  I would like it if you would slow down a bit.  If you are open to it,  I would be willing to drive."

Now the driver of the car may be able to be more mindful of their driving and less reactive to their emotions and personal conflict.  And heck, if they let you drive they could take a nice break in the passenger seat!  Win Win.

Ok, so this example is a little bit silly by the way of conflict, but I wanted to use something that is accessible to all so that you can grasp the concept of "I" statements easily.  Of course, you will have to cater your "I" statements to the conflict situation that you are in, but doing so is likely to decrease the conflict and avoid blaming and shaming the other individual.  Which leads me to my next point.....

3. Avoid shaming and blaming.  

When we get into a conflict with someone, it is so easy to point the finger at the other individual.  Taking responsibility for our actions is really hard.  Let's face it, we don't want to be wrong.  We want to be right, at all costs, which can be incredibly dangerous to our relationships, not to mention our egos.

There are many obvious ways in which we shame and blame others, such as name calling, comparing them to someone else, reminding them of their past mistakes or flaws, or purposefully embarrassing them, but more concerning is that there are so many other subtle ways in which we shame and blame others during conflict that can be very damaging.  The subtle ways in which we shame and blame looks something like:

  • "What is wrong with you?"
  • "I can't believe you would do something so stupid/crazy/dumb/______."
  • "Bad boy/girl."
  • "I would never do something like that."
  • "Look what you made me do!"
  • "Get over it already."
  • "You made mommy cry."
  • "Stop being such a wimp."
  • "Are you really going to cry/yell/pout/whine/____ right now?"

If you are using this kind of language during a conflict, or even more overt shaming and blaming, it is likely that you are experiencing the so called "drama" that you wish to avoid.  

Instead, try speaking from your heart.  Or if you are really that upset in the moment and just can't be constructive, then take a break and walk away from the situation until you can return to the conflict more calm and compassionate.  

4. Remain calm.

It is imperative that you remain calm when in a conflict situation.  Although it may be difficult, particularly if you are really P.O.'d, screaming and yelling during a conflict situation is almost never helpful.  Certainly not constructive.  

Listen, if you are mad, I know how important it is to express yourself.  Sometimes that includes screaming. But not during a conflict resolution with another individual.  Screaming and yelling at others will only increase the conflict and their anger towards you.  Therefore, it is best to disengage from the conflict until both parties can return to the conflict more calm. 

There are many wonderful coping skills to use to help get you calm.  

First, do something physically active, such as going to the gym to lift weights, running, walking, jumping rope, playing hide-and-go-seek with your kids, riding a bike, taking a yoga class, etc.  Second, do something that makes you feel really good and relaxed, such as taking a bath, getting a massage, playing video games, reading a book, doodling, painting your nails, making a craft, meditating, etc.

When you do something physical you are directing your energy outward in a constructive way, likely making you tired after some time.  If you get tired from lifting weights at the gym, for example, you will have less energy to be angry and reactive in a conflict.  Furthermore, you will increase endorphins and balance your cortisol levels in your body, which will increase feelings of well-being and decreases stress, respectively.  

Once you have done this and you feel more calm, return to the conflict and state your case calmly.  In this way, you will be better heard by the other individual.

5. Avoid Judgment. 

When it comes to "drama," what most people are referring to is the judgment that they have towards others' reactive emotions (i.e. anger, sadness, disgust, fear, etc.) that can happen when in a conflict situation.  This can be demonstrated as crying, yelling, cursing, pacing, sweating, etc. 

If you feel that your emotions are inappropriate, or the person you are in conflict with feels that your emotions are inappropriate, then it is likely that you experiencing judgment that is unhelpful and unproductive.

Be gentle with yourself and your loved ones.

Any emotion that you feel during a conflict is totally normal and ok.  Don't be made to feel bad for experiencing emotion.  You are human.  You have emotions.

Now, emotions can feel a bit out of control at times.  So, it's what you do with those emotions that is of utmost importance.  Managing and balancing your emotions is going to afford you health and happiness by allowing you to regulate your mood and create loving and caring interpersonal relationships.  If you find that you have difficulty managing your emotions, please refer to my upcoming DBT and Mindfulness Group here.

So, people!  Save the "drama" for your mama and lets solve conflict with open hearts and help to erase stigma by valuing the myriad of emotions that remind us everyday of what it means to be alive.

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. *