Rachel Plachcinski writes: NCT’s HiddenHalf campaign is going really well. It aims to get postnatal mental illness out of hiding and ensure new mothers get the help they need, by improving the postnatal check up carried out when babies are 6-8 weeks old.
I’ve been to various events linked to the campaign, including a Parliamentary reception and the Big Push walk and picnic at Temple Newsam, organised by NCT Yorkshire and the Humber volunteers. I took my yarn, hook and squares to publicise #NCTyarns , but in the end it was so hot that they never left my bag!
These events got me thinking about what we can do to manage our own mental health. Now, I’m not saying that someone who is bordering on suicidal will be saved by possession of a crochet hook. On the scale of mental health wellness and illness there are definitely times when the help of a professional, possibly with good drugs, is the best way forward by a county mile. But it is good to talk about things we can all do, in our everyday lives, that keep us well.
My day job is as NCT’s Research Engagement Officer, so it is with great happiness that I present to you some research which found that knitting slows your heart rate, helps with anxiety and depression, and even slows dementia and distracts people with chronic pain conditions.
And in a quick and entirely unscientific survey of my friends, I found that knitting and crochet help them to:
Enter a calm, meditative state
It’s about stilling my mind, shouting down the anxieties
It keeps me patient when I have a long, unexpected wait (I care nothing about airport delays, because I can knit!)
It’s the one craft I’ve always kept up with over the past almost 50 years! I find it relaxing and the repetition and rhythm of stitches is quite meditative.
I find sitting with a project can really help to still my mind and shout down the anxieties that build when I sit without something to do.
I like the repetition, it’s soothing. It also seems to help order my thoughts, slows everything down so I can think things through.
I find I listen better and pay more attention when I have a mindless activity like knitting to keep me still.
I really need it for watching TV because I start to twitch if I’m not doing something with my hands.
Negotiate challenging social situations
I was at a large week long event with about 1,000 people. We set up a knitting table in a corner of the general meeting area. There was always someone there knitting, mostly me as it was all a little overwhelming. Over the course of the week I taught many people to knit but mostly I listened. People would wonder over and sit down not to knit but for a rest. Then they’d start to talk and share things that they were struggling with, their questions, hopes and fears. It was a powerful safe space in the midst of a busy event.
As an introvert I also find that it can really help me to navigate social situations that I would otherwise find tricky. Even when I’m not feeling at all able to people if I know that I can sit in a corner with my knitting I’m far more likely to accept an invitation.
I take my small stash along to NCT Tiny Explorers, the baby group I run. If the women are getting on ok and don’t need much input from me I get it out and make a start. Usually someone asks me what I’m doing, so I explain about the project. Other days it’s a good way of ‘being’ there without being intrusive. Maybe a new or quieter mum will feel safe because I’m not making anything happen,just letting them be. I’m not very good,either, which probably helps – I’ve cast on a lot more than I’ve cast off!
Learn new things
It’s easy to learn, but the potential for continuing to learn is endless. When I’m exploring technique options, I am exhilarated at what I learn, and how I can use a particular stitch pattern or construction method. I like that I can knit something that takes almost no thought, or that I can knit something that requires all my focus and attention.
Find new friends
The yarn community is an amazing place too. You should definitely check out what’s been going on on the #titsoutcollective hashtag with dozens of creatives coming together to raise money for charities. But in general it is a lovely, warm, friendly group and a festival like Yarndale filled with indie dyers and pattern designers is a magical place to be.
What’s funny is that when E and I bump into one another it is at Yarndale so the knitting environment helps us navigate our introvert and talk to one another.
An additional point from me: I love that it’s tactile and you choose your own beautiful colours. Both these things are hugely soothing for me. I used to work in a fabric shop and would spend half my time stroking cashmere and silky cottons, or gazing with rapt admiration at glorious patterns and colours. Talking to customers with crafty hobbies was good fun too.
Knitting is so much more than yarn and stitches – it’s peace, hope, expectation, challenge, certainty, accomplishment. It’s both the future and the past – it is everything!
What do knitting and crochet mean to you?