Knitting as a coping skill
I have been knitting for over 12 years and in that time have come to view knitting as an activity that stimulates my creativity, challenges me mentally, and can provide a soothing muscle memory meditation. Current research supports this. I believe in this topic so much that I wrote my dissertation on it.
I offer to teach knitting to any client that is interested in learning and have materials on hand. Knitting can help lower anxiety, increase self-worth, increase concentration, help with visual/spatial awareness, aid anger management, increase feelings of empowerment, and provide an activity that is self-soothing.
Here are a few point about the therapeutic aspects of knitting:
Meditation: “When the midbrain is engaged by the repetitive movement involved in many crafts, the temporal lobe is unable to focus on worry or stress. The cortex—which controls conscious thought—becomes quiet and peaceful, (Borgnes-Giramonti, 2012, p. 180).
Stress relief and concentration: Riley, Corkhill, and Morris (2013) studied knitters and found forty-seven percent of participants claimed that knitting helps them think through problems, 37% reported that it helps them forget problems, 55% reported that it helps their thinking to flow more easily, 58% think knitting aids memory, 61% noted that knitting improves their concentration, and 39% said knitting helps them organize their thoughts. Cognitive skills that participants reported had improved for them included mathematics, visual/spatial awareness, and planning and organizing.
Anger management and empowerment: Christiansen (2003) highlighted positive effects in prisoners that were taught to knit. These effects included improvements in anger management, patience, empowerment, social skills, and self-worth.
Soothing and a sense of mastery: Duffy (2007) found that it was helpful with a number of clients with affect management, increasing self-soothing behaviors and grounding, increasing self-esteem through mastery of a task, enhancing creativity, and helped increase feelings of patience and being grounded. One client reported that knitting was helpful with her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and knitting also gave her a sense of accomplishment.
Attention increase: Nelson (2005) reported about a pilot knitting project for at-risk students at Broadway Middle School and noted that the program helped students gain focus and enhance concentration.
Dementia improvements: Symptoms associated with dementia may be reduced with activities like knitting. In a longitudinal study with 2,040 individuals age 65 and older, regular participation in a number of activities including traveling, odd jobs, knitting, or gardening were associated with a lower risk of subsequent dementia (Fabrigoule et al., 1995.)
- Depression reduction: Adam et al. (2000) used knitting as a therapeutic technique in a case study with a 70-year old female patient with Alzheimer's. She relearned knitting. At 3 months her depression and apathy had completely disappeared, along with appetite and sleeping problems.
Relaxation: In his book The Relaxation Response, Benson (1975) writes, “Like meditation or prayer, knitting allows for the passive release of stray thoughts. The rhythmic and repetitive quality of the stitching, along with the needles clicking, resembles a calming mantra.” (p. 80) Later Benson (2001) notes, “The relaxation response can be elicited by a number of techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, repetitive prayer, qi gong, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, jogging—even knitting. (p. 58).
Panic attacks: Broadbent (2005) attests to the power of knitting to help with a variety of issues for her patients, including panic attacks, nightmares, attention deficit disorders, and concentration. She writes: "The body has an inbuilt relaxation response. When you bring about this response you are essentially blocking the stress hormones, adrenalin and nonadrenalin. Slower brain waves also occur. It’s fairly straightforward. When you do something meditative like knitting, you decrease metabolism, you decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and decreasethe rate of breath, (p. 16)."
Reduction of trauma: Holmes, Brewin, and Hennesy (2004) found that subjects had reduced risk of trauma when performing a visuospatial task while they watched traumatizing films. The subjects reported less emotional distress and intrusive imagery.
Help with dieting: Visuospatial tasks also helped dieters reduce imagery and craving for forbidden foods, like chocolate (Kemps et al., 2008).
Increase verbal expression: Hand movements may also help us connect with our verbal pathways, making it easier to verbalize thoughts (Hare, 1999; Skipper, Goldin-Meadow, Nusbaum, &; Small, 2009).