Albert Einstein famously knitted to “clear his mind” and now knitting is having something of a hipster renaissance.All sorts of celebrities are being snapped with their work in progress. Meryl Streep, David Arquette and Kristen Stewart knit on set, whilst uber cool Kate Moss reportedly carries her needles around in a Chanel handbag. Even the distinctly un-average Ryan Gosling describes knitting as part of his perfect day, because “you get something out of it at the end. You get a nice present. For someone who wants an oddly shaped, off-putting scarf.”
Hurrah. I now have two things in common with Kate Moss – I knit AND I come from Croydon. Sadly the similarities end there, but I’d like to spend some time encouraging all busy executives to make some time in their day for knitting.
Knitting is part of my daily routine and the main reason that I have any sanity left after three years of setting up businesses across APAC. Few evenings pass without one of my projects receiving attention and when I travel, my knitting comes with me.
Knitting relaxes me. It helps me detach from the hectic, ever-connected life of home base Hong Kong. In a world where work and social seamlessly segues from office to bar to sports field, knitting provides a haven where I can fully switch off.
The kernel of my addiction lies in the way that knitting allows me to reside completely in the moment. The focus on the pattern, the counting of stitches, the automatic and repetitive motion all create a sense of mindfulness. Over the years I’ve dabbled with yoga, run regularly and sang in various choral groups in my free time, but ultimately it’s all chasing the same dragons – total immersion, clear mindedness and a sense of escape.
Stress Relief – The Relaxation Response
It turns out there is some scientific support for this response to knitting. Professor Herbert Benson of the US Mind/Body Medical Institute studies the ‘relaxation response’, the opposite of the fight / flight response. His studies have shown that invoking the relaxation response on a daily basis can have a significant positive impact for sufferers of high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic pain and stress related conditions.
Knitting has been identified as one of those activities to trigger the relaxation response, due to the repetitive nature of the activity. The New York Times reported that Monica Lewinsky knitted throughout the Clinton Impeachment hearings and that’s a lady I would definitely take stress-survival tips from.
Making time in your schedule to knit for even 30 minutes a day will help to trigger the relaxation response. Keep a small project in your bag, locker or desk pedestal – there’s nothing to stop you getting that knit fix on your commute, in your lunch hour or whilst on a conference call. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never seen an HR policy that specifically prevents yarn craft during working hours, but you might want to check…
Stave Off Depression
As if the relaxation response buzz wasn’t enough, knitting may also enhance the release of serotonin, the body’s own feel-good factor. Dr Barry Jacobs from Princeton University has identified that repetitive movement causes serotonin release, which makes perfect sense when you think about the effectiveness of rocking a baby to sleep. Therapeutic knitting service Stitchlinks in the UK reports considerable anecdotal success across a broad range of physical and mental health conditions, including MS, ADHD, PTSD and Bipolar Disorder. They claim that knitting helps many sufferers of these conditions to order their thoughts and calm their moods.
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that acts on nearly all of the brain’s cells influencing sleep, appetite and mood. Low serotonin levels could contribute to depression and lord knows we’re all keen to clear of that iceberg. Furthermore, Vitamin D also helps to encourage serotonin production and it’s quite likely that as an office worker, you’re probably not getting enough of that either.
Dr Michelle’s solution – get your knit fix outside with the sun on your skin for 10 minutes to maximize your mood boost.
Improved Concentration and Memory
But it’s not just for the stress-relief that executives should pick up the needles; knitting also helps exercise the mind and improve its functions. In a recent report for the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61% of survey participants reported that knitting definitely improved powers of concentration.
There’s also a slightly controversial therapy called Eye Movement De-sensitization and Reprocessing (EDMR) that claims repetitive side to side eye movements have a range of therapeutic benefits, some of which can be enjoyed from the action of knitting. The one that most interests me, is that just 30 seconds of side to side eye movement each day may help improve memory function by up to 10%.
Improved concentration and memory, now that’s got to help in the fight back against the fact that the internet appears to have broken into my house sometime in the mid-noughties and made off with my powers of recall.