When I first did the research for my book Crochet Saved My Life, there seemed to be very few people talking about the health benefits of yarncrafting. I’m thrilled to see that in the half a dozen years since that time, a wide variety of industries are now discussing the issue. There has also been some great research into the topic.
In 2014, I conducted a survey of more than 8,000 crocheters to learn more about how they benefit from crafts. Some results of that study have been published online although the entire study has not yet been published. More recently, Australian researcher Pippa Burns from the University of Wollongong and her peer Rosemary van Der Meer completed a similar survey, of about the same number of people. Many of our results were strikingly similar, and they give insight into how the average person truly benefits from yarncrafting.
The Australian study found that the major reasons people crochet are for:
The primary benefits of the craft were
The results of my own study were not so different; the top benefits cited were:
When I asked survey respondents to pick the number one healing benefit of the craft, 46% chose “calming, relaxing, stress-reduction” and another 34% said “creative outlet”.
My study looked more specifically at the ways in which crochet helped with specific ailments.
The Australia study looked more specifically at forming online connections through crochet. “At least half of the respondents (51%) found that communicating with others in online crochet groups strengthened their relationships with the other members and many (40%) had made new friends online.”
In other words, crochet has been proven through research to offer a number of mental health benefits including resolving symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, grief, loneliness, and isolation. The latter is not to be overlooked; a Special Time Magazine issue includes an article by Markham Heid detailing how “the loneliness epidemic” is possible the greatest health crisis of our time. Moreover, loneliness leads to a variety of other mental health issues, which means that nipping loneliness in the bud can help reduce other ailments, too. Crochet and knitting bring people together in community both online and in person to reduce loneliness and increase interconnectedness.
In Crochet Saved My Life, I delved deep into the research and anecdotal evidence showing how crochet specifically helped people with both mental and physical health issues including depression, anxiety, OCD, addiction, PTSD, schizophrenia, age-related memory loss, acute and chronic pain, and more. Let’s take a look at how yarncrafting helps with some of these conditions.
I have personal experience with crocheting to ease the symptoms of major depression, which is how I came to be so passionate about this topic in the first place. Research suggests that crochet might offer the brain a release of both serotonin and dopamine, two brain chemicals linked with depression. If you can improve those levels, then you can reduce depression. The studies into this are relatively new, but they seem promising. Crochet also helps ease depression by:
Anxiety impacts even more people than depression does. According to my own study, people with anxiety benefit even more from crochet than those with depression do. It helps for many of the same reasons – takes your mind off of ruminating thoughts and provides a focused activity that can help to calm both body and mind. Crochet is especially useful as a craft for anxiety because of the repetitive motions which bring the body into a naturally relaxing rhythm. It can slow the heart rate and give you the opportunity to deepen your breathing, both of which reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Crochet can also be used very well for situational anxiety. People who have social anxiety may find that working on a crochet project in a group setting helps reduce their challenges. People with specific phobias may be able to increase their ability to tolerate exposure to their triggers when they focus on crochet. Some people have even reported that they could manage the symptoms of a panic attack through focusing on yarn in their hands.
PTSD is one common form of anxiety. People have actually found that they can prevent flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms by engaging with yarncrafting when they feel the onset of those symptoms. Dr. Emily Holmes published research in 2002 revealed that engaging in a visuospatial task like crochet at the onset of a PTSD flashback can interrupt and prevent the flashback from occurring.
Crochet seems to be a mixed bag when it comes to OCD symptoms. Some people develop perfectionist tendencies and compulsions that filter into their work, making it challenging to complete a project. On the other hand, many people find that OCD can be a positive outlet for their compulsions or even a distraction to stop them from doing their compulsive behaviors. Interrupting compulsive behavior is a key part of OCD treatment, so if you are able to use yarn to distract from engaging in the behavior then that can be part of your healing.
Similar to OCD, crochet can be a distraction / replacement tool for addictive behavior. If you’re addicted to alcohol, drugs, food, Internet, or anything else, part of the challenge is finding ways to not consume the item of addiction. The more forms of positive distraction that you have, the better. Crochet and knitting can both be powerful tools for focusing your mind on something other than what you want to indulge in. In fact, there are many substance recovery programs that have crochet and knitting as part of their therapy.
There is also extensive research into the many ways that crochet and knitting can offer pain relief. People with both acute and chronic pain who want to minimize their use of pain medications may turn to yarncrafting as a tool to help them get through some of their pain challenges. These tasks primarily help because when you focus on something else, your mind gets distracted from pain, so you feel it less. However, there are some indications that the crafts can help physically reduce pain as well. Serotonin is a natural pain-reliever so if it’s true that crochet releases serotonin then it may benefit our bodies in this way. Crochet sometimes also helps ease specific types of pain; people with fibromyalgia and some forms of arthritis have found that the daily activity of knitting or crochet can keep the body limber so as to reduce some of the pain.
Of course, none of this is to suggest that crochet alone can cure mental or physical health issues. People facing those challenges should work with a variety of professionals to find the solutions most suited to their needs. That said, yarncrafting is an affordable, accessible option that you can use to supplement any other medications and therapies. It clearly offers myriad benefits, and it has very few (if any) drawbacks.
How have knitting or crochet helped you with physical or mental health issues or general problems in life?