Mental Health and Creativity

Updated: Jun 21, 2018

I started knitting again, after a nearly 20-year gap, when I had just turned 40. I realised very quickly that it was helping me mentally, but I didn’t know how. I knew that I could think more clearly when part of my mind was occupied with knitting. It felt as though that part of my brain was like a hyperactive toddler, fussing about unimportant things and distracting me from thinking clearly. Once the toddler was occupied, the adult could think.

I also found that knitting gave me ‘toward’ motivation rather than ‘away from’ motivation. Let me explain: when I was busy with children, or study, or work, I wanted to have a break – some time when I wouldn’t be doing the things I was doing right now. This is ‘away from’ motivation. It is powerful, but it’s not positive, and it can leave one open to anti-climax: “Right I’m not working, now what do I do?” Knitting gave me something I wanted to move toward. I wanted some time when I would be doing something I wanted to do. It was much more positive and I knew what to do when I got there.

And unlike some things we do to relax, knitting allowed me to take advantage of even small snatches of time. With time, planning and money, we can arrange a spa day, or a meal out with someone special, but with knitting, a 30 minute gap between activities in a busy day can provide relaxation and pleasure. Instead of sitting in the doctor’s surgery, waiting for my appointment, getting more and more frustrated with their lateness, I could sit and knit. I was calm, enjoying my hobby, and happily accepting of the inevitable delays.

So, am I alone in getting mental health benefits from my creative hobby? It appears not. In 2016, researchers at Otago University (New Zealand) found a link between creative activity, (including creative writing, knitting, crochet, drawing and painting), and Positive Affect, which they define as encompassing pleasurable engagement, happiness, joy, excitement and enthusiasm. This effect became a spiral as creative activity on one day led to Positive Affect on the following day, which made creative activity more likely. The researchers concluded that their findings support the emerging emphasis on everyday creativity as a means of cultivating positive psychological functioning.

Here’s a link to that study, which was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology:

Knit for Peace did a literature review of the evidence-based research on the health benefits of knitting. They found that knitting conferred many benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety and depression, and slower onset of dementia. Here’s a link to that research:

There’s more, but I think that’s enough for today. If you want to look into it further, here are a couple more links:

So, the message is this: find a creative hobby that you enjoy, and do it every day. It will probably make you happier and healthier.




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