Thread Art and Mental Health: How Mindful Stitching Helps Your Brain

Wait, fun things are good for you too? Yep! In our ever-increasing busyness, taking some time to meditate is often difficult. however, if we are crafting, similar things happen in our brain as if we were to “OM” it out on a mountaintop. We focus, problem solve, build memory retention and creativity. As someone who can’t even sit and watch a television show without doing SOMETHING else at the same time, meditation is incredibly difficult. Crafting helps my mind relax, still itself, and focus on a single task, which accomplishes much the same thing as meditation. Crafting, and the process of creating art can improve your mental health!

Mindful Crafting – Knitting as an Example

The rhythm of knitting is a fabulous mantra. Knit, purl, knit, purl. It’s a calming repetition, and your muscle memory keeps your mind focused enough, but not stressed about the task. It can be contemplative, restorative, and comforting. Many people knit because they feel that the process makes them feel happier, more relaxed, and rested.

Some people even form knitting groups, knit-ins, stitch-n-bitch, or other groups where they can simply be in the company of others, all restful knitting, bonding, and forming social relationships while relaxing. The process of teaching and learning in any craft, including knitting, teaches patience, perseverance, and even pacing – all of which are taught in pain management classes and in the treatment of depression.

While knitting has these positive traits, it also allows these benefits to occur without the knitter making them happen. Within the concentration of the project is a flow, where the knitter focuses simply on the activity, letting other thoughts fall away. As this happens, the individual relaxes, and their rhythm and muscle memory take over. If you’d like to try knitting, a quality kit can be found here.

StitchLinks

Stitchlinks is, as they describe themselves, a CIC – or Community Interest Company, and a nonprofit. They focus on the research in neuropsychology showing that crafting (particularly knitting, but applicable to other crafts as well) benefits health and wellness. Their studies cover rhythmic crafting and memory, noting that after an episode of knitting, free recall was enhanced. They also address methods for dealing with chronic pain using knitting as repetitive meditative movement, social networking, and serotonin release. Their results show that rhythmic, repetitive crafting has positive results for people with chronic pain, and improve memory recall and “aid in feelings of contribution, belonging, and usefulness”. You can read one of their study posters here.

StitchLinks creates areas for groups to get together, talk about mental health, depression, anxiety, and illness, and use their crafting as a bonding experience and encouragement. They target the idea of neuroplasticity and bioplasticity: utilizing curiosity, healthy habits, and learning to keep the brain functioning well. Keep in mind that these methods are not a substitute for prescribed medications, therapy, or care plans from your mental health professional, but are intended to supplement and assist as they can. If you have any concerns about participating in the StitchLinks community – talk to your healthcare professional about it.

Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience

In 1990, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi published a book about the optimal experience of psychology called Flow. What he and his colleagues attempted to do was describe what we as humans do when we are happiest. When someone asks you what your optimal life would be, most people will respond that they’d like to be without responsibility, relaxing somewhere, and never having to work again. What he discovered was that we as humans are pretty awful at predicting what makes us happy.

Instead of doing nothing – we are happiest when we are voluntarily participating in an activity that challenges us, and which is possible, but in which we become completely absorbed. In that absorption, we are so focused that we lose the ability to ask mundane routine check mark questions, like “Crap, what time do I have to be at work tomorrow”, and instead are lost in the function of pushing our brain to learn something new.

Csikszentmihalyi states his belief in the right work providing opportunities for thriving and flow. People who are working on something they believe challenges them “achieve the flow experience – deep concentration, high and balanced challenges and skills, a sense of control and satisfaction – about four times as often on their jobs, as they do when they are sitting at home watching television.”

Achieving Flow – YOU can.

Alright, so your job is repetitive and not a challenge, and all you want to do is come home and watch television. But – what if, instead of one show, you took twenty minutes to stitch, knit, crochet, paint, or make needle lace? I can hear you now, “I can’t learn that I tried when I was a kid, and I just never picked it up.” “My aunt tried to teach me, and I was hopeless.”

Did you want to learn it then? What was the draw of learning it when you were young? Repetition is less exciting when you’re young because you want to be out exploring the world – you don’t necessarily need to recuperate after a day of work. Now, you have a reason to learn – your mental health. It doesn’t even take that much to get started. You can get an embroidery kit on Amazon for under $10.

Take the time – look at Pinterest, or Google, or Instagram, and see some beautiful work that people are doing. I always chuckle when people look at my work, and exclaim about how intricate it is, and how much time it takes. The stitches might be small, but they are all repetitive, and my time is maximized while watching Murder She Wrote and Miss Marple.

Every single person who compliments my work has the opportunity and ability to do the same. Sure, some artists have amazing talents for this kind of work. I’m not really one of them – I just like it a lot, and try new things all the time. My work won’t ever be in a museum. I can tell you though – after a few minutes of crafting, I feel better. I feel relaxed, calmer, and my mind is able to let my day go.

Challenging Yourself – What Next?

I challenge you to pick a craft, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, lace making, or even calligraphy and go look at Instagram and Pinterest pictures. Notice how many tutorials are on YouTube, and watch one. Then, pick up a kit, or look for the stuff to start at JoAnns, Michaels, WalMart, Amazon, or even eBay.

Set a timer on your phone for a time in the evening when you know you’ll be sitting around just watching television, and try something new. Your brain will thank you for it, and you just might achieve your optimum flow!

If you have questions, comments, or are just flat out of crafty ideas, leave a comment below, and I’m happy to point you in a direction. There are many things out there to learn – and I’m sure we can find one for you!

10 thoughts on “Thread Art and Mental Health: How Mindful Stitching Helps Your Brain

  1. Great article! I’ve never considered myself to be great with crafty type of stuff, but you make a really good point – a lot of times we learn crafts or creative arts in structured environments that make it hard to get into that “flow” state. I took some ceramics classes in high school and found it really relaxing, and have thought about trying that again as an adult. The whole feeling of getting lost in an activity is probably why “grown-up” coloring books have become so popular in the last several years.

    1. Exactly! It’s so hard for us to drag ourselves away from constant connectedness to external responsibilities. When we finally can, it’s amazing to feel the differences. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! You should definitely make some ceramics!! They’re so beautiful, and allow for tons of expressive creativity 😀

  2. This is excellent. My mom actually taught me to knit about 20 years ago or more. I knitted a sweater and it was a great accomplishment.
    I really never thought about the relaxing effect it would have by simply doing it. Anything that works now a days to slow us down is a great thing.
    This sure seems to have a ton of positive attributes, so maybe more people need to get back to knitting instead of Tv.
    Thanks

    1. Holy cow! I still haven’t finished a sweater! 😀 I get distracted by new projects! That’s awesome. I think we often forget how our minds love to learn and grow – and in learning and growing, we can actually rest, too! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

  3. I have to write I am having the same thing, but by different activities . I am a boy , so knitting is not really my thing But as I said by different activities , like washing dishes or cleaning the appartement I do have this ”flow”.

    I think it is totally right pointed out to this book of Mikhaly. i myself find this information very important and life changing in many ways. Thet for example people with some chronically disease , like for example even Tourette’s , can get happy by doing particular activity. It is amazing that it can help also ”regular” people to make it work for them.
    Well done!

    1. Hi Julius! Thanks for sharing! Don’t lock yourself out of helpful activities just because you’re a boy, though! Check out https://westknits.com/! Stephen West is one of the most highly respected knitters in the craft, and he is definitely a boy! 🙂 Do what you enjoy, no matter what, and no matter who you are! 😀 I am glad you have a way to find your flow, though!

  4. This is great!! I always believe that learning new things is very good for treating various Psychological problems but never thought about knitting in this way. Thanks for this insight. I will definitely utilise this information:))

  5. Great Article. I certainly see how Thread are and stitching helps with mindfulness and meditation also. About 3 or 4 years back a big thing was colouring for adults – yes adults doing colouring in a little like kids do.

    The phenomena was due to the practice helping with mindfulness and concentration. A lot of people found it therapeutic and good for their mental health.

    Calligraphy or tapestry is something I want to try out.

    1. I will admit that I still have a Dr. Who coloring book! 🙂 I’ve tried calligraphy, and I’m fair at it, but I prefer craftiness with thread and yarn. Something about the tactile element of stitching makes me happy. Thank you for your visit to the site!

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