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Crochet as therapy: What happens in the brain when we crochet?

by Laura Eccleston

17 Mar 2023


Crochet as therapy: What happens in the brain when we crochet?
Being able to escape to meditate on a beach somewhere isn't exactly an option for most of us, so how can we find more accessible ways to relax and reduce our anxiety? There are many advocates who say that crocheting is a form of therapy, but why is this? What is it that makes crochet a wonderful way to relax and take our mind of all the things we stress about in our day to day lives? In this article I want to delve deeper into the benefits of craft as therapy, the science behind it and primarily why crochet in particular is one of the best skills to learn that can help us relax.

Switching off our monkey minds
If you've ever had a stressful day there is nothing more needed than being able to switch off our brains when we get home, but in most cases, we just switch on the TV or scroll endlessly through social media to try and help ourselves relax, and although our brains become numb to our worries when we're focusing on our screens, we can often be left feeling deflated, tired, and in some cases feeling worse than before we started. Of course a good comedy can pick most of us up and many of us enjoy tuning into our favourite show that takes us away from our own world, but if you've ever wondered why you're still left feeling unhappy or anxious even after putting your feet up in front of a screen it could be because of how our brains work.

There is so much on TV these days that can be stressful, whether it's the news telling us all that is wrong with the world or advertisements trying to sell us something we know we don't need, but somehow feel like we do and social media can leave us feeling like we're inadequate, missing out or simply just failing in life for some reason, which of course isn't true, and all this comes at us when we're trying to switch off. So what can we do? How can we truly switch off our monkey minds, be left feeling better about ourselves and what is going on in our brains?

Why hobbies are better than screens
Most of our day is spent in beta brain waves, which allow us to focus, follow and form the correct response needed for the activity at hand. It is a fast brain activity that means we are attentive and alert. When we are relaxed our brains move into alpha brain waves. This is when our brains move into an idle state, we're not concentrating or focusing on anything and symptoms of depression are reduced and creativity is improved. As we move deeper into meditation our brain goes into even more relaxed states such as theta and delta, such as when we are asleep. The art of deep mediation is being able to move into these brain patterns without actually falling asleep, but for now we just want to achieve alpha brain waves.

Unfortunately, activities we think relax us, such as watching TV, scrolling through social media, even driving a car are in fact causing chaos in our brains because our brains are constantly switching between these two states of being relaxed and being alert as we deal with the task at hand or follow a drama unfold. We also have no control over this brain process so this is why we can be left feeling tired or agitated even though we think we are relaxed because we're not focusing on our problems. When we are meditating we are controlling this process.

It's important to add that learning a new hobby our brains are in beta mode because we are concentrating on a new task and a new experience, creating memories to store in our brains for future use, so the meditative benefits of a hobby come after this process as we grow more experienced so if you're a beginner crocheter and are feeling stressed, rather than relaxed, this will be why.

Reducing anxiety through meditation
When we think of meditation, we often think of people sat with their legs crossed and their eyes closed, often in beautiful locations, but actually this is just a stereotype. Meditation comes in many many different forms and you don't have to be an expert to enjoy its benefits or even be aware of it happening. Crochet, along with other hobbies like painting or gardening are all forms of meditation and it's due to the repetitive movements of the task. Tasks we know well. Of course when we're learning a hobby for the first time it is stressful because our brains are in beta mode, attentive and alert, but when we become more experienced we are simply focused on repeating stitches, counting and following a pattern, which is focusing the mind into a trance like state, even when we don't feel it happening. As our brain moves from beta mode into alpha mode, serotonin is being released into your body, which is helping improve your mood and your sense of calmness.

This is what makes crocheting such a wonderful way to relax. It allows us to switch off our brains and to focus on something other than our problems, just like when we watch TV, but it keeps our brains in the relaxed alpha state mode because we are repeating stitches and creating a calming natural flow as we crochet. We don't have to think, we don't have to concentrate (at least not too much) and that helps our bodies calm down and to relax. Have you ever felt sleepy when you've been crocheting? This will be why. You're moving beyond the alpha state, into a deeper meditative trance. 

The added bonus as well is that crocheting, as with any hobby, also has the added benefit of allowing us to create something when we are finished, and because we have produced something with our time we can enjoy a real sense of achievement. We may feel excited to share that experience with others so crocheting can leave us with an added sense of purpose, feeling part of a community and having attained something with our time that we find harder from simply watching TV or scrolling through social media.

Memory and focus issues
The accessibility and productiveness of crochet also makes it a useful skill for those who may have problems with focusing on a task or being able to sit still for long periods of time as it helps quiet the mind. This can often be very surprising for those with ADHD and very comforting because it can allow people to disconnect their over-active mind from their bodily movements. The repetitive stitches within crochet and the repetitive nature of making an item again and again such as a hat, without having to think, can often allow those with hyper-active minds to settle down into a relaxed rhythm, reduce their agitation and fidgeting tendencies and improve their symptoms over time. There is also a huge sense of achievement and productiveness because you are making something at the end of it, which can often be a difficult task for many who can't focus and jump easily from one activity to another quickly.

Crocheting has also been shown to improve memory function and can be used to help with dementia and other memory loss issues. Just like with learning a language or doing a puzzle, crocheting helps focus the brain on a task and stimulates activity in the brain as it learns a new skill. Then the soothing, meditative benefits of crochet help calm those suffering with the effects of memory loss and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The mind-challenging nature of crochet helps the brain's abililty to operate even when it is damaged so crochet really is quite incredible!

How to get started?
When learning a new craft, it can often feel daunting and overwhelming, but crochet is extremely accessible as all you need is some yarn and a crochet hook, a pair of scissors and a yarn needle to sew in those ends. You really don't need anything else and you can start off with simple projects like flowers, granny squares or hats. Choose a smooth acrylic yarn or a cotton yarn to begin with as it will be easier to see those stitches and don't get caught up on how to hold the yarn or how to handle your hook as you just need to do what is comfortable for you.

There are lots of free patterns on my website here to get you started and you can watch my full playlist of beginner tutorials here to get you started!
Beginner Crochet Stitches and Tutorials >>

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