Anxiety is an unavoidable part of life. It can result from nearly any interaction; work, school, family, peers, strangers, animals, and a million other factors contribute to our daily stress levels.
Usually, these feelings come and go, but for some people, that stress compounds and becomes anxiety, which persists and can make things like going to the grocery store or speaking to a classroom seem terrifying and impossible. However, not everyone is comfortable taking medications or can afford to go to therapy to reduce their anxiety.
Recently, many people with anxiety have been exploring the benefits of knitting and crochet on their mental health, and the results are positively surprising. In this article, we will discuss how anxiety develops and affects the brain and how practicing yarncrafts has been shown to improve mental health functions.
How Anxiety Develops
Firstly, like all mental illnesses, anxiety does not have just one cause or guaranteed trigger. It depends highly on the individual and how they respond to different lived experiences; most anxiety disorders are developed over time.
To expand on that, developing anxiety has been strongly linked to traumatic early childhood experiences, like the death of a parent, social exclusion and bullying, racism and discrimination, and physical and emotional abuse, according to a UK mental health services organization called Mind.
However, it doesn’t have to be anything that acute. An overly strict and controlling or excessively disinterested and apathetic parenting style can also lead to developing anxiety later in life. Following childhood and youth, daily problems adults may face can further contribute to feelings of anxiety. Demanding work schedules, being out of a job, struggling to find housing, a lack of stability and certainty, loss of a loved one, and abuse are all risk factors that lead to anxiety.
Moreover, Mind cites that one of the most common triggers for anxiety in adults is significant changes in your daily experience, like moving to a new city or a public health crisis like COVID-19. A 2022 report from the World Health Organization supports this, citing a 25% increase in the prevalence of worldwide depression and anxiety following the pandemic, which they attribute to the social isolation, uncertainty, and disruption of routine the pandemic created.
Subsequently, because of the unforeseeable uptick in anxiety disorders, many people are left without access to adequate mental health services to help them relieve their anxiety. This is where knitting and other non-traditional methods of reducing stress come into play; individuals seek alternate solutions to their negative feelings.
First, let's better understand anxiety through a more scientific lens.
The Brain and Anxiety
Simply put, the brain is like a complex highway system, with neurons constantly traveling from one part of the brain to another, carrying information and triggering responses. People with anxiety disorders are shown to have an overly active limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotional responses.
Furthermore, the limbic system is found deep within the brain, above the brainstem, and is made up of the following substructures; beginning with the hippocampus, which affects memory; then the amygdala, which monitors emotional responses like fear, anger, and happiness; the cingulate gyrus, which is responsible for regulating emotions, behavior, and pain, as well as some autonomic motor function; the hypothalamus, which maintains bodily functions like heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and even sensations of hunger and thirst; and lastly, the basal ganglia, which regulates voluntary movements and responds to cognitive behaviors like rewards and reinforcements.
With that in mind, it is easy to understand why this part of the brain is more active in people with anxiety disorders. Human response to fear is hardwired in the amygdala, which recognizes threats and signals to other brain parts for the appropriate hormonal response; cortisol and adrenaline make us stronger, faster, and more alert.
In an individual with anxiety, the amygdala becomes overactive, alerting other parts of the brain and triggering hormone responses in situations that aren’t necessarily dangerous. Subsequently, people with long-term anxiety are shown to have a larger amygdala, while the hippocampus withers because the overproduction of cortisol makes it difficult to form memories.
These two parts of the brain are most affected in people with anxiety disorders and, together, control emotional memory recall. This is why many people who struggle with this find that specific locations, smells, and sounds trigger their anxiety; their brain associates the memory with experiencing that negative emotion in the hippocampus, which then signals the amygdala to release hormones when in a similar environment.
Now that we know what triggers anxiety and how the brain responds let's discuss how yarn crafts like knitting and crochet can help reduce it.
How Knitting/Crocheting Relieves Stress
To begin, some of the top ways recommended by the Mayo Health Clinic to relieve anxiety are behavioral therapy, exercise, deep breathing, meditation, and socialization. Many of these recommended behaviors apply to the practice of knitting, as the process involves sitting and focusing on repetitive movements like meditation, often in a group setting, which promotes socialization.
Secondly, knitting engages the brain through bilateral movements, like playing piano or exercising, which stimulates brain function in many different parts and can help to balance out the overactivity of the limbic region associated with anxiety.
More to the same point, a Royal United Hospital study determined the knitting rhythm promotes serotonin release, which is the chemical the body emits to help regulate mood. This means knitting is beneficial not only in relieving anxiety but also in chronic pain, depression, and eating disorders.
Furthermore, a study by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy surveyed 3,545 active knitters in an online community, and the results saw a significant correlation between knitting frequently and feeling calmer and happier. Those who participated in a knitting group saw even more robust results, which align with what we know about socialization reducing anxiety. 90% of the surveyed knitters reported making friends through the group, and 70% cited finding it easier to talk to people in the group than they did approaching people in their daily lives. To elaborate, a major reason reported for this was having something to do with your hands to help overcome the anxiety towards social interaction, as well as knowingly having a mutual interest to discuss, which takes some of the anxiety out of figuring out what to say.
In addition, I am someone who can speak to these benefits personally. I have struggled with anxiety and took up knitting to have something to do with my hands because the pressure was causing me to pick at my skin, and I needed a healthier alternative. Unsurprisingly, it worked! I was able to stop the anxious behavior that I wanted. Still, I had the unexpected benefits of learning a new and fun skill, connecting with new people, and experiencing fewer moments of anxiety.
Moreover, for me and many others, it helps to know that your project is under your control; anxiety makes you feel fear when you think you have no control. Knitting and crochet assuage that feeling by putting something concrete and within your influence in front of you.
In summation, knitting provides a distraction from negative thoughts, an entry into a new and welcoming community, and a proven chemical response to combat anxiety. If you struggle with anxious thoughts, there are several things you can practice to improve your life; knitting may be just right for you.
Share This Post On
Leave a comment
You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in