I spoke to Betsan Corkhill, the founder of Stitchlinks about her research.
She looks at the meditative, creative and social benefits of knitting – with the aim of introducing it into therapeutic healthcare. She had to start calling it a ‘bilateral rhythmic psychosocial interaction’. But we know it better as therapeutic knitting. Here’s what she had to say about it.
Why is Therapeutic Knitting Important?
"Knitting therapy is important because it’s accessible, low cost and portable. It can be done anytime, anywhere. It gives people a tool to help them control their symptoms.
What’s emerged from our research is that the other things going on in people’s lives has a big influence on how they recover from mental health problems.
There are five themes that come up in the research narratives. These were fear, worry and stress; isolation and loneliness; low confidence and self-esteem; lack of a rewarding occupation, and an enforced change of identity.
If people weren’t proactive in dealing with those issues, then they tended not to manage so well."
So How Does Knitting Help with Mental Health Problems?
"Repetitive, Rhythmic, Automatic Movements Are Calming.
When you knit, the movements you make are two handed and across the body. They are a coordinated pattern of automatic, rhythmic, repetitive movement. This type of movement takes up lots of brain capacity. As your brain has limited capacity, there’s less available to focus on problems or pain.
Repetitive movement can enhance the release of serotonin. Think about how we tap or rock if we are very stressed. The rhythm can help facilitate a meditative state.
Your Hand Positions While Knitting Can Help Reduce Anxiety
The way your hands are across your body when knitting can create a barrier, a buffer zone between you and others. People who suffer from anxiety or panic can use knitting to help them feel comfortable socialising, or even using public transport. I know some people who can’t use public transport if they don’t have their knitting to soothe them.
Knitting Can Help You Meet New People and Feel More Comfortable in Social Situations.
There are lots of friendly knitting groups out there. It is one of the few things you can do at the same time as chatting and maintaining eye contact – but you can also choose to sit and knit quietly if you are feeling vulnerable. It puts you in control of how much you participate in the group.
Knitting Can Calm Anxious Thoughts and Help You Remember How It Feels to Be Relaxed.
People describe knitting as giving their minds a break. It’s a way of breaking into those thought patterns that come with anxiety. It’s difficult to break those loops when they are established in your subconscious but the automatic nature of knitting is in your subconscious too – that might be why it helps.
If you’re distressed and anxious for a long period, it is reflected in your muscles and your posture. Your brain recognises this as being normal for you. You can forget what it feels like to be relaxed. I encourage people to flow with the movements and try and focus on what it feels like. Then you can remember and recall that feeling even when you haven’t got your knitting to hand."
What About Managing Wellbeing and Staying Well?
"You can use knitting for wellbeing whether you are well or whether you suffer from a mental health problem.
If we don’t manage stress on a daily basis it will build and give us health problems – a daily dose of knitting can help us stay calm.
It can also help with sleep problems. If you wake up with thoughts whirring round your head, then keep a small knitting kit by your bed. It’s something you can do quietly to relax you again. You can use it on the commute to work and at lunchtimes.
You can find friends in a safe environment, learn problem solving and meet people from a lot of different backgrounds. When you achieve something, you get a boost of feel-good chemicals. This motivates you to do more.
We did a survey as part of our research and 81% of people with clinical depression who responded felt happier after knitting. 54% felt happy or very happy and only 1% still felt sad. We found that the more frequently people knitted, the happier and calmer they felt."
Thanks so much to Betsan for talking to me. I’m definitely going to be getting my knitting needles out again!