Knitting was once a pastime reserved strictly for elderly cat ladies and career spinsters, but over the past few years it’s somehow transmogrified into a Thing We Do. The sight of a twentysomething pulling out her needles and yarn on the subway no longer prompts a cocked eyebrow; rather, it’s a legit hobby. The Craft Yarn Council reports that a third of women ages 25 to 35 now knit or crochet—that’s a lot.
Now, experts are making a connection between knitting as a hobby and stress reduction. The council created a “Stitch Away Stress” campaign last April in honor of National Stress Awareness Month. As quoted in The New York Times, Dr. Herbert Benson, a mind-body medicine pioneer and author of The Relaxation Response, says that the repetitive movement of needlework can encourage a relaxed mind/body state just like you get from meditation and yoga. It can even lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
But unlike meditation and yoga, craft activities, like knitting and weaving, reap a tangible benefit, too. You can use that blanket as a bedspread; your dog will love that tiny sweater. (JK, dogs hate sweaters.) Says author Jane E. Brody, “I keep photos of my singular accomplishments on my cellphone to boost my spirits when needed.”
There’s a good deal of research to back the premise of stress reduction through knitting, not just personal anecdotes. The Craft Yarn Council has surveyed hundreds of thousands of knitters since the 1990s, and it routinely lists stress relief and creative fulfillment as benefits. A 2009 University of British Columbia study of anorexic women found that learning how to knit led to significant improvements. An additional study conducted in 2011 suggested that knitting and crocheting may even help to stave off the hit brain function takes as we age.
So if you’re still avoiding the knitting trend based on its “that’s what old ladies do” connotation, it’s time to chill out. Knitting may help you do just that.