Knitting as a therapy for depression

Our resident psychologist investigates…knitting your way out of depression!
If you thought knitting was for grannies think again. Knitting is now so popular that an estimated four million people in the UK cast on every day, and there are groups popping up all over the country who use knitting as a way to beat stress and have fun.
Even celebrities, from Russell Crowe to Madonna, are at it: hailing knitting as the new yoga. It seems that not only does “make it and mend it” make sound economic sense, but it also does us some good as well.

Creating things to feel good

As a psychologist I am always aware of the how things affect us on a mental / emotional level and I have always known, on an intuitive level, that making and creating things makes people feel good.
Recent studies have shown that not only does it make us feel good, with that sense of satisfaction of a job well done, but it can also physically help us:Girls knitting

  • deal with pain
  • improve feelings of well-being
  • significantly change your outlook on life.

Secret uncovered on craft magazine

Betsan Corkhill, a former NHS physiotherapist, realised that even maximum doses of medication were relatively ineffective if the core issues of loneliness, low self-esteem, anxiety and “an unoccupied mind left to ruminate on problems” were not provided for.
Disheartened by the lack of interest in these problems, Betsan left the NHS in 2002 and went to work on craft magazines. To her surprise she discovered “huge amounts” of emails and letters extolling the health benefits of cross-stitching and knitting, saying they had help alleviate even suicidal depression and had allowed people to reduce some pain medication. Fascinated and inspired Betsan started to research the therapeutic effects of knitting and stitching.

Knitting has a neurochemical effect

Findings to date suggest that knitting has a neurochemical effect on the brain. Monica Baird, pain specialist at the Royal United Hospital Bath states “It changes brain chemistry for the better, possibly by decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good serotonin and dopamine.”
It seems that knitting could be a cheap and accessible intervention that functions as an effective, informal, pain-management aid.

There are 9 Comments

  • Celia

    I knitted for years (now sew and make jewellry ) – these especially the knitting and sewing really do have a measureable calming effect . I feel that main reasons are the repetetive nature of it, and the measureable achievement. the repetition is very soothing – achievement is satisfying – a very good combination.

  • SaraB-B

    Yep me too, knit , sew spin , I feel its the repetetive nature that unwinds me , i have to concentrate just enough so that I cant dwell on worries , and I can watch TV at the same time so dont feel guilty about sitting about ‘doing Nothing useful’

  • Hilary Bruffell

    I totally agree about this. I love to knit whilst watching telly. It is the only way I manage to turn off my brain. and you are right Celia, about the repetitive nature. Apparently it is very similar to going into a meditative state. We can almost go into a trance when knitting…..except when you have a really difficult pattern to follow!

  • Linda Dunning

    Does anyone have a pattern for a teddy rambler or the like. I belong to a walking group and would like to knit one for the club. Thanks

  • Hilary Bruffell

    Hi, I have asked around on Twitter and there doesn’t seem to be a specific pattern for a teddy that is a walker, but this book is really good and has lots of different designs and clothes for teddies and I am sure that you could adapt something from this.

    Let us know how you get on and don’t forget to post a photo when you have finished it.

  • shalaidah

    I totally agree though i’m not depressed I find that when I panic or in a state of worry about something, that if I do something creative like knitting that I suddenly feel very calm. When i’m very upset though I bake…mainly bread lol.

    It really does help to clear the mind then go back to the situation with a clear head and new set of eyes, to then tackle the problem

  • Angela

    For me the therapeutic effect of knitting is two-fold — or several-fold! Yes, I find it relaxing as people say; but I also enjoy the creativity; the choice of colours and colour combinations; the “tweaks” to change a pattern slightly; and finally my finished products (very often the knitted tea cosies shown on MIAMI pages, which is the pattern I sent to MIAMI) are given to my favourite animal charity (see to sell as fund raisers… so I have so many “feel good” effects from knitting. And, for the tea cosies and other small items, I use up many small amounts of knitting yarn that I have in hand so it’s quite economical too.

  • Knitting into relaxation | Mindy Goose

    […] Something I struggle with, is being able to relax, to simply let my mind be free. I often find myself spending evenings still thinking about photography, projects, planning, researching, and ultimately becoming overwhelmed with my workload. I have somehow forgotten how to switch off and relax, actually allowing myself to put work aside and not feel guilty for doing so. I’ve been thinking for a while, that maybe what I need is a hobby to relax with. Something completely unconnected to photography, that has no deadlines or connected to my daily work. I still love and enjoy photography, but I feel I need to separate work from downtime. Being a freelancer, it’s something I find incredibly difficult to do. I imagine I’ll still have moments where inspiration and desire overcomes, but the aim is to allow myself time to relax without the darkness of guilt lurking in my mind. So what hobby? I’ve been thinking about making my own clothes, but having seen sewing programmes I think my attempt at relaxing with a sewing machine would be very misplaced. I used to knit when I was younger, with my mum, and with my gran who was especially good at most crafts, in retrospect I wish I’d paid more attention. I’ve decided to get back into the habit and relearn to knit and create sweaters, blankets, hats, gloves! I bought some yarn and knitting needles yesterday and began practicing. Today I learnt seed stitch. A few more swatches to practice with and I’ll be making a fancy jumper in no time. Knitting is strangely therapeutic, something I didn’t think it would be. It’s something purely for myself, I can complete and create in my own time with no pressures. It’s calming, keeps my busy mind occupied on creating rather than thinking about work long after I should have switched it off. My therapist gave me ideas about listening to music to relax to, but always emphasising on finding something individual that works for you. I think this could be my individual method of relaxation. I’ve done a little research and apparently I’m not alone in this thinking! As a psychologist I am always aware of the how things affect us on a mental / emotional level and I … […]