Anxiety and permanent stress can not only cause depression and burnout symptoms; they are also on a permanent crusade against your immune system. And a weakened defense system will finally lead to inflammation and chronic disease, such as diabetes or cancer. Ever since celebrities like Arianna Huffington have started to speak out on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, activities to slow our hasty day-to-day lives are booming.
As a solid GenX member I was raised myself with the old goals to strive for success and career and sacrifice my personal well-being along the way. Of course, I engaged in yoga and meditation to unwind from never-ending working hours. I even resorted to a tantra course with my ex partner once. I quit yoga because of the impossible schedule, and my partner became my ex-partner, too. The anxiety just would not go away, and I would still wake up at night, panicking about the next day. Perhaps it was me, who was self-sabotaging my mental health, I thought. Why am I simply unable to turn something into a routine, which is clearly beneficial for millions of people around the globe?
It took me a while to realize that after having just crawled out of the career trap, I was now stuck in the mindful trap. I was trying to be somebody, which I am simply not. Yoga just did not resonate with me, although I still like practicing every once in a while.
A couple of months later, an Easter package came from my mother. This time she had sent me four skeins of beautifully shaded merino wool in flaming colors as well as a set of different sized, circular knitting needles with a card. “Remember how you used to knit scarves at school, because you were always daydreaming?”, it said.
I remembered. Our teacher, Mr. Schaeffer, had allowed us to knit during geography class. It helped me to concentrate on what he was saying, because I hated geography. At least I did not fail his class and was successfully producing quite a few bulky hoops and headbands. It was the 90s. Other girls followed suit, we formed our little knitters' community on the back benches. We got even one of the boys into knitting. He left us all in awe and fabricated a Norwegian sweater with a complicated pattern in less than a term.
Long story short, I took my mother's advice and started my first work in progress in twenty years. A simple headband, just to get going. The colorful wool was just too enticing. The wooden needles felt good in my hands. I loved their warm clicking sound and the soft touch of wool, when it slid through my fingers. I could feel the tension fall from my shoulders. I did not have to be anywhere, I did not have to compete with anybody. All of a sudden, I was in the moment. All anxiety was gone, and I even started to feel giddy because I was creating something again. I finished the hat during two sittings on a rainy weekend and slept like a baby for the first time in years.
By now, the benefits of knitting and crocheting have been even studied by scientists. The continuous, monotonous activity and the soft sounds in particular give your serotonin production a big boost. Serotonin is that neurotransmitter which reduces anxiety and increases your happiness. When you knit on a regular basis you moreover push your brain and your hands to work together. We have literally evolved to use our brains to coordinate our hands. The fine motor skills needed for knitting and crocheting do not only keep you happy, they strengthen your fingers and improve your grip. People who suffer from arthritis have found knitting to be one of the most beneficial activities to reduce the stiffness in their fingers, too.
Today, I love and enjoy the whole process of it. Selecting a project, finding the right wool, emerging in different colors and finally retiring to my chair or even sitting on a blanket in the park to lose myself in the work in progress. It is never boring, I learn new techniques every once in a while, try new patterns and feel the deep satisfaction when you are finally able to wear your own creation. Knitters are a happy bunch and they know it.