We read all over popular news how taking time to craft/meditate/watch a sunrise can reduce anxiety and depression, but did you know that studies support this? They show consistent results of anxiety and depression support through crafting! Publication after publication of research shows that taking time out to craft helps the mind and body in measurable ways. I’m going to condense this for you into a fairly quick foundation and a few steps – so you can start using crafting as a tool to help with your anxiety and depression. These tips can also be helpful for those with PTSD, but please remember:
These methods are meant to supplement, not replace, therapy and medications. Please consult your mental health provider if you have questions about how these suggestions relate to your care.
Rumination is something we all do – but what does it mean? Well, it’s defined as deep and considered thoughts about something. It has a second definition – to chew a cud! Both of those are what we do, as persons with depression, anxiety, and sometimes PTSD.
We ruminate. We pore over things, consider, think deeply – and all of these can be good – or harmful. Rumination can help you find new ways to think about the world, but in anxious or depressive cycles, rumination can reiterate negative thoughts,
feelings, or habits.
One of the ways to interrupt depressive or anxious cycles is to interrupt rumination.
Interrupting the flurry of thoughts in our minds can help us find relief, and help create spaces that we can repeatedly go to for that relief. Susan Nolan-Hoeksema, a former Yale University psychologist, studied the role of rumination in depression in women, people who lived through specific trauma, those who had lost family members to terminal illness, and a general community ranging from 25-75 years of age.
Her studies noted obvious links between rumination and increase of depression/PTSD/anxiety. Those in her study who ruminated (chewed their cud!) were four times more likely to develop major depression than those who could interrupt that cycle. Excessive worry (part of the cud-chewing cycle!) increases anxiety immensely!
Okay – so you’re ready to try it – but what can you expect from trying to interrupt your personal cud-chewing cycle?
— Quick in service here – I know that cud chewing isn’t really what we do..but it’s a very apt description of how we process our thoughts. Please don’t think that I’m taking this lightly – just trying to avoid over-using “rumination”! —
Alright, so if you successfully interrupt the rumination cycle, you can see results like:
- Clearer thoughts
- Reduced feelings of being overwhelmed
- More positive thoughts
- Increased ability to see new connections/pathways/actions to take
Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Interrupting the cycle through redirecting your focus into a mentally absorbing or challenging task
can have great benefits!
Great, Hilary. Now, how the heck do I get started when my mind is already spinning?
How to Get Started: Ideas and Options for Those of Us With Anxiety
Well, if you’re at all like me, you’re inspired by interesting pictures of pretty things. If you don’t have Pinterest, I would start there – it’s a great note board for your inspiration. Start by searching “knitting”, “crochet”, “simple painting”, “woodwork” or “crafty inspiration”. You’ll quickly find yourself pulled into a whirlpool of pretty things. Make a board of “Things I’d like to Try”, and pin a few things.
You don’t have to start crafting right away – just the new input to your brain, considering what it would take to make something like the thing you’re seeing – is a new way for your brain to think, and it’s distracting to your cud-chewing.
“Okay, now I see all of these things, and I’m anxious that I won’t be able to make them like that / depressed that I don’t have that kind of talent…etc.”
The beautiful thing about crafting is that anyone can make something beautiful. If you can follow directions, you can craft.
So, pick one thing, preferably one without a huge monetary investment at the start, which is why I suggest knitting or crochet. (You only need the yarn and needles/hook)
Then, search on Pinterest for “Easy Ways to Crochet” or “Beginner’s Guide to Knitting”. Before you even go to the store and get stuff, watch one of the tutorials. Let yourself learn – it’s the learning that distracts us, and the challenge that the craft presents that keeps our minds focused and away from the drudgery of rumination for a little while.
Try it out. Your first item might suck, and you might look at it like it’s a dead mouse that your cat brought you from outside. That’s fine! At least you did it!
You made something, and while you were making – your mind was distracted. The trick is getting your mind to let go of the cud, and focus on learning something new. Even though we like to think that we are multitaskers – we can really only focus on one thing at a time. If you’re crafting, you’re not ruminating!
Keep at it – you’re going to make something beautiful (and not just with your craft!).
As you work at your craft, you become more comfortable with the muscle memory and motions. One of the neat things about knitting and crochet is the rhythm they provide as you’re working. However, you may find that as your rhythm increases, your attention decreases, and you begin ruminating while you’re crafting.
I have a few tips to keep that from happening too frequently – and the trick is to keep your mind busy! Are you sensing a theme here yet?
Work with a challenging technique. Sometimes I look at cabled sweaters and just yearn for the day that I can whip them out like an Irish fisherman’s wife (or like I imagine they do). They’re so beautiful, and I haven’t mastered them yet. Other beautiful patterns include laces or shawlettes with leafy designs. Despite their complex beauty – someone still had to learn to make them – and so could you! Don’t be afraid to try new things that you think are beautiful.
Work small to focus your attention. My favorite thing is little, tiny, polymer clay food. OH I LOVE IT! Realistic food on the scale of one million to one is so cute and adorbs! But, I also really like tiny embroidery! There are little hoops on necklace chains that you can make into tiny embroidered gifts, or for your own use. Tiny things make our minds focus hard on the details, and… you guessed it! Distract us from the cud!
Learn a new stitch/pattern/way of crafting something that you’re familiar with. A good example is a dishcloth. These are SUPER easy to learn, very repetitive, and easy to make for gifts, or for your own use. It checks all the boxes for distracting your mind from your cud. There are also a bazillion (real term! :P) patterns for dishcloths. Master one, then find one that uses a different stitch and try that. I will tell you from experience that if you panic-craft dishcloths, people around you will want them. They last forever. If you’re crafting for someone, that can sometimes be a great motivator to keep at it!
Make a gift for someone else. I mentioned this above, but crafting for the use of someone else is both a help, and perhaps a hindrance. Use this method carefully. Sometimes the anxiety of another person’s judgment is debilitating, and sometimes it’s inspiring. I would use whatever works for you – and don’t push yourself too hard. Take it slowly, enjoy the detail, and marvel at your skill as it grows. I periodically look at my work and remember when I had no idea what I was doing – and smile at all the work and time that brought me to the point that I could do a French knot. The crafting is the real gift here, not the end result.
Make a tutorial for something you’ve made/learned/mastered. Holy crap does this work. I write about this stuff because I absolutely love it – but it’s SO HARD to go back and write down the details, making sure that I’m writing to someone who may never have held a needle/hook/hoop before. Regurgitating the details in a way that helps someone else learn not only cements it in your mind, but refocuses you onto both helping someone else, and onto the detail that is required to make sure someone can do what you do!
What to Do After You Craft:
So, you’ve distracted your mind, you’re in a pleasant place, and you’d really like to remember what this feels like later when the cud begins to rear its chewable head once more. (ew.)
What do you do after you craft? Write, talk into your phone, take a picture and put a caption on it – but take some time to acknowledge where your mind is right then. For some people, journaling is a great help. I hate it – but I love taking a picture and captioning it in my phone, so I have a great record of good places that my brain has been, and what has come of it.
For some people, having regularly scheduled crafting times can function like an in-between-therapy appointment with yourself. If this sounds like something you could do – put it in your calendar and treat it like that. Ask someone to hold you accountable for your time, if that helps.
These are all tips and tricks – but your life may look very different based on your experience. I’d love to hear how you manage stress/anxiety/depression/PTSD below; and if you’re comfortable sharing your stories about how this method has helped you cope, this is a safe place to do so! (Comments are moderated.)
Remember Why You Are Doing This:
Crafting isn’t only a distraction from the rumination of our thoughts. It’s a helpful way to learn a new skill, potentially become part of a community of fellow crafters, but most of all to connect you and your mind to techniques and methods that will help you navigate through those feelings of being overwhelmed by your own thoughts.
It’s a tool, not a solution, but it’s definitely a good place to start. There is no quick fix for anxiety, depression, or PTSD, and everyone deals with these either in themselves or with someone they know. These are ways that you can be together, doing something, and yet not be required to interact (for me, this is most helpful when I want to be near someone but not talk to them).
Our brains are complicated, beautiful things, but sometimes they can make our lives harder. We have tools that can give us a little more control over their navigation, and at the same time, offer up some new skills and pleasant memories too. Give crafting a try, and let me know in the comments if it’s worked for you. If it hasn’t, let me know too! We are all learning together, and I’d love to know what worked for you!