Skip to content

Here's why knitting or crocheting can calm your mind during stressful days

When Los Angeles-based Teri Slaven, 78, starts knitting, she immediately enters what she calls “the zone.” “I feel busy, focused, and content,” she tells SELF. For Carolyn Barnes, 33, from Tempe, Arizona, it’s crocheting. She started her new hobby after a death in her family and a stressful phase of parenthood. (Her sons were 1 and 3 at the time.) “I was grieving and really tired from motherhood," she tells SELF. “I didn’t have anything left to give. But I knew I couldn’t give what little I had left to my phone.”

She bought a beginner’s crocheting kit, called Woobles, and although there was an initial learning curve, she recognized a sharp change in her brain right away. She was alert. “I felt a sense of purpose,” she explains.

If you’re on the hunt for a hobby that’ll potentially relieve stress, calm you down, and help you feel productive and fulfilled, knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching—any goal-directed pursuit you can do at home—might be worth looking into. Research suggests that manual tasks like these may help improve your attentiveness overall and boost your mood, for example. Other studies have found that learning new skills that require hand-eye coordination (like quilting or digital photography) seem to help combat cognitive decline in older age.

Here are all the things you may gain from this type of hobby (aside from a really sweet scarf).

1. It’ll give you a sense of control.

Ashley Matskevich, MD, a Boston-based psychiatrist, often “prescribes” these crafty types of activities for stressed-out clients. “I recommend everyone have a ‘third thing,’” she tells SELF. Work or family/relationships tend to be the first two “things,” but they are often largely out of your control (hence why they can be so freaking stressful). Having a goal-focused hobby returns that ultra-important sense of control, Dr. Matskevich says.

That objective could, quite literally, be anything that piques your interest. But for folks like Barnes, who are limited on time and accessibility (a.k.a. you can’t devote hours to marathon training, let alone leave the house), knitting and crocheting can be really ideal. “These activities are beneficial because they’re so dependable,” Dr. Matskevich explains. “Having something reliable, dependable, and that you're in control of can be incredibly empowering.”

When Cara Bellucci, 31, from Philadelphia, starts knitting a new scarf or sweater, she knows she’s about to work toward a goal that’s truly hers. “I focus on improving at something that’s just for my own satisfaction,” she tells SELF. “In the end, I have tangible proof that making time for myself can lead to something meaningful and beautiful. I am asserting that I am worth the time and effort, and sometimes frustration, of a hundred little stitches.”

2. You might enter a more mindful, less stressed state.

When you’re particularly tense, there’s a lot of extra activity going on in your brain. In some cases, this might result in excess energy flowing (quite literally) to your limbs, resulting in repetitive motions like fidgeting or pacing (called psychomotor agitation). It’s a vicious cycle: “Your brain says, ‘We’re pacing and fidgeting, we must be stressed,’” Timothy Jeider, MD, a psychiatrist with Nevada Mental Health, tells SELF. Basically, knitting and crocheting can take the place of those nervous, undirected movements.

Plus, Dr. Jeider says, the act of knitting—a focused behavior that keeps your hands busy—can help calm you down. “Repetitive movements, in and of themselves, can be soothing and provide distraction from stressful thoughts. It’s that ‘mindless’ activity, as they might say, that motion, that can help you achieve that meditation-like state,” he explains.

“Knitting is engaging, but not stressful,” Dr. Matskevich adds. “It requires focus, but not too much. It doesn't require a lot of motivation. It’s just pleasant.” That’s true for Slaven, who finds that it helps her forget any problems she’s having at the moment. “I can focus on a single goal—a sweater, scarf, or blanket,” Slaven says.

3. It’ll give you a chance to put perfectionist tendencies on the back burner.

If you’re ambitious and hardwired to want to succeed, jumping head-first into a new, skill-based hobby in adulthood might seem daunting. But the beauty behind knitting and crocheting (as opposed to, say, needing to be good at a certain skill for your job) is that you’re doing this for you, not a paycheck. “Unless you’re operating an Etsy shop, knitting and crocheting aren’t productivity- and perfectionism-driven,” Dr. Matskevich says. “Most people I know who knit continue to knit. That’s because you’re going to continue to notice yourself getting better at it.”

Of course, abandoning all perfectionist tendencies is a lot easier said than done. But Dr. Matskevich says there are things you can do to help combat it. “Try to contextualize that the scarf you’re knitting is for your mental health, not because you need to make it,” she notes. “This should be an activity that is inherently enjoyable and relaxing.” In that same vein, if knitting and crocheting stress you out more, it’s absolutely fine to stop—you might be suited for something a little different, Dr. Matskevich points out. If logging miles on a treadmill or dancing to music are a better fit, go for that instead.

And try to remember that, even if you don’t think of yourself as a crafty person, you probably will get better at your hobby with time. Though Barnes was excited to crack open her first kit, she assumed she wouldn’t be very good. Her first creation—a little frog—wasn’t perfect, but she continued to improve. “I’m doing something for me, but I can also give them out as gifts now,” she says. “That makes me feel really good.”

4. You’re giving your brain a workout in a low-lift way.

While you might think that repetitive crafts are a mindless way to pass the time, you’re actually engaging your brain more than you might think, Dr. Jeider says. Knitting, crocheting, and similar activities require, and help improve, hand-eye coordination and motor skill function, he says, which are things that can dip with age. These activities require learned sequences and patterns, which are likely to improve your memory and concentration, according to Dr. Matskevich. “These types of activities can really help prevent mild cognitive impairment as people age,” she explains.

Slaven says that knitting has definitely helped keep her brain sharp as she’s gotten older.

5. You can plug into a ready-made community.

When Barnes picks up her yarn and crochet hook, she’s typically alone at home while her kids are asleep. But she doesn’t necessarily feel lonely: She’s part of multiple Facebook groups where other crafters share their masterpieces and swap tips. “These things can be a solo activity, but they can also bolster a sense of community and connectedness, which is another indirect benefit,” Dr. Jeider says.

In that sense, Dr. Matskevich says that knitting, crocheting, and cross-stitching can be third places alongside third things—she notes that it’s common to find free courses at local neighborhood centers or even through places like There are also plenty of YouTube tutorials to help guide you, like this one.

Alternatively, Dr. Matskevich says you also might consider asking an older person in your life to teach you—maybe even via volunteering at a nursing home. “The beauty of these activities is that they are often intergenerational,” she notes. “Why not ask a grandparent to join you? It will likely be beneficial for both of you.”

Original article available on SELF

Share this article: