Not Just for Grandmothers Anymore: How Knitting Could Help Americans Cope With Anxiety

Prescription Drugs
Ebola, the end of Daylight Savings Time, and November political elections: besides the fact that Americans are dealing with all three of these things right now, they all seem to have nothing in common.

But they do have something in common — they’ve all triggered a significant amount of stress and anxiety across the country; from worrying about a pandemic spread of Ebola to suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (which occurs in thousands, if not millions, of people during the winter season as a result of decreased exposure to sunlight), Americans have suddenly encountered a slew of anxiety-inducing events.

The easiest solution is often to see a doctor and get a prescription — with Americans consuming over 50% of the world’s prescription drugs (despite being only 5% of the world’s population), it’s easier than ever to grab a script and pop some pills. Even when a prescription is obtained and consumed legally, it’s clear that Americans are becoming heavily dependent on drugs, rather than seeking alternative treatments that are less invasive.

Eating healthy foods and exercising often are two pieces of advice commonly given to those struggling with anxiety, but a new stress-fighting habit is starting to take over: knitting.

Seasoned knitters (and crocheters) are likely very familiar with the therapeutic benefits of knitting, and they may have even encouraged friends and family into taking up the hobby. But research studies are providing even more substance to the argument. Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, states that hand-based crafts (most notably knitting or crocheting) promote cognitive function while also staving off the onset of arthritis.

The constant mathematical process of knitting produces a calming effect, Barron explains, but it also stimulates brain activity — as much as 60% of the brain is used when a person engages in a hand-based craft activity. Not only does a knitter experience a feel-good biological effect from knitting something to completion — even more so when the item is knitted for another person — but regular joint movement in the fingers is actually a preventative defense against arthritis.

Knitting may be getting the spotlight for now (especially since sweater weather is well under way at this point), but it’s likely that other alternative methods for reducing anxiety will pop up in the news and in academic journals.

“There are a number of non-pharmacological ways of treating anxiety, although in some cases medication is indicated, at least while an individual’s anxiety is in an acute phase. The problem is that benzodiazepines are so effective at treating anxiety, many people don’t look beyond them, which can become problematic because they are habit-forming,” says Nicole Swaggerty-Valdes, Ph.D., owner of Nicole Valdes, Ph.D. and Associates, P.A.  “Anxiety is a signal affect, meaning it’s the mind’s way of telling you something isn’t right. Insight-oriented therapy helps the individual get to the root cause of anxiety and make lasting changes in the way they respond to stress. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is also helpful as it teaches coping strategies and helps the individual learn how their unhealthy thought patterns are triggering anxiety.”

While monitored use of prescription drugs for anxiety and depression are often very helpful, more doctors are recognizing that reliance on prescription drugs can occur very quickly and can be very harmful in the long run. As more health organizations advocate for stricter regulation of prescription drugs, and as high-tech databases become more able to detect possible drug abuse, finding a healthy technique for managing stress is something that everyone should do before the anxiety becomes unbearable.

Of course, leading a healthy lifestyle is also important. In my opinion, regular exercise and avoiding excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption should be part of any plan to combat anxiety. There are also holistic approaches available, such as acupuncture and meditation, that some find helpful,” says Valdes.

If nothing else, it is the perfect weather for a brand new sweater.

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