Knitting can help students with anxiety and depression, relieve stress

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Knitting can help students with anxiety and depression, relieve stress

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When she was 8 years old, senior Emma LaPlante learned how to knit at her aunt’s wedding shower. Since then, she said she has carried that skill with her and knits to make presents for others and primarily to ease stress.

 “It’s a really good way to relax. Your mind isn’t really on (knitting) because once you get in the groove of it, you’re not really thinking about it,” she said. “You can just think and be in that sort of relaxed state of mind, but you’re still being productive, whereas if you’re just napping or lying down or watching TV, which are kind of comparable activities where you’re not really focusing that hard and it’s kind of just a break, you’re not actually making anything productive.”

Just as LaPlante uses knitting to relax, studies have increasingly shown these benefits of knitting and crafting. According to a March CNN article titled “This is your brain on knitting,” crafting can ease stress, increase happiness, help people with depression or anxiety and protect the brain from aging. In fact, a clinical trial by the National Institute on Aging, published in January, states that cognitive training can improve the brain’s processing speed for 10 years. 

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Senior Emma LaPlante works on her next knitting creation. She said knitting serves as both a stress reliever and a creative outlet throughout her time in high school. MIKAELA GEORGE / PHOTO

Dr. Cara Lewis, assistant professor of psychology at IU, said cognitive activities come with some benefits.

“One could extrapolate from research in other areas that staying cognitively active has positive effects, but there is also the potential that crafting and knitting in particular has benefit for fine motor skill maintenance,” she said.

In addition, crafting may show effects similar to meditation and serve as an anti-depressant. In a study by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 81 percent of knitters with depression said they felt happy after knitting.

Lewis agreed that these activities could help break the depression cycle.

“The cognitive behavioral models of depression suggest that increasing pleasurable activities in times of depression can be considered ‘anti-depressant’ in nature,” she said. “Behavioral models of depression suggest that in times of depression, people engage in fewer activities and therefore have fewer opportunities to receive reinforcement from their environment, which feeds the depressive cycle. Therefore, knitting and crafting may serve as one method to break the depression loop.”

AP Psychology teacher Robin Pletcher said, however, that while knitting and crafting may help with depression, it may only be effective to a certain extent.

“There is a strong chemical connection with depression,” Pletcher said. “(It’s hard to show that) if somebody is truly diagnosed with depression, that just doing an activity would take that depression away without having a medication involved.”

Nevertheless, LaPlante said she thinks such activities are still important for students, as it is necessary to have some outlet for stress.

“I think it’s imperative to have something like (knitting) to relieve the stress of everyday life,” she said. “I’m either in a rehearsal or a meeting every day after school until like 9:30 (p.m.), and then I get home and I do homework. So I feel like I very rarely have time to just not have to be worrying about anything and to just not have to be focusing, not have to be thinking, and so I really like the time that I spend doing music or knitting or just crafts at home because it’s just a nice way to wind down. I feel like kids who don’t have that in their lives tend to be a lot more stressed out.”

Similarly, Pletcher said she agrees that an outlet is important, but with moderation.

“Each person needs to have an effective outlet for stress, and the key (is) being effective. If knitting or crafting is your thing, then that could be an effective way for you to get an outlet for stress,” she said. “In psychology, a lot of times we’ll talk about how a lot of things done in moderation are good, but when they’re done in excess then it becomes bad. (Knitting and crafting) can be an outlet for stress, but if it becomes something that they have to do or they have to make something a certain way, and it has to be perfect, then they can become stressed about the thing that’s the outlet for stress.”

Inspired by her sister’s love for the activity, sophomore Taylor Darnley said she started crafting a couple of years ago and uses it to cope with stress.

chu.feature3“It builds a technique in my brain to relieve everything that’s going (on) around me so I can just focus on one thing,” Darnley said. “It doesn’t require a lot of work, and you can do it whenever you want. There’s no due date or anything like that, like homework.”

She said crafting has played a large role in her life, especially during the time when her parents divorced.

 “A couple years ago, my parents got a divorce, so I just started making all (this) stuff,” she said. “My sister’s been doing it with me to cope with all the stress and all that, and I think it played a role by relieving me because I was pretty sad when it happened, and when I started weaving and crocheting and crafting and all that, it really helped me get the pain out of me.”

Apart from relieving stress, Darnley said crafting is a unique way to uplift people’s moods.

 “It helps you get out of the zone. It’s a unique way to get yourself out there and show your art and all that. You can show your work (and) you can show how talented you are,” she said. “You can do whatever you want with it. You don’t have to follow everybody else. I think it’s a really good way to express yourself.”

In general, as students try to cope with stress from school and home, activities like knitting and crafting could act as effective relaxation tools.

“I think arts and crafting in general has always been there for me, and it’s part of my everyday life because I’m in choir and I’m in orchestra, and being artistic and using the (right) side of my brain is something that I’m doing constantly, and so I feel like there hasn’t been one time in my life where I feel like it’s pushed me through, but I feel like it’s constantly just been something that’s kept me grounded,” LaPlante said. “It’s easy to get swallowed up in school and with the stress of grades and trying to get into college, and it’s really easy to get really enveloped by that, but when you have that creative outlet, it keeps you more firmly rooted.”

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