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I’ve had anxiety all of my life. I’ve managed it in a variety of ways from anti-anxiety medications to, well, not managing it at all. The feelings of panic start in my chest, slowly spreading outward, a crackling electric feeling that eventually spans my whole body. I’ve been on different medications for it, but I want to look for more natural ways to manage it.

The concept of mindfulness is relatively new for me. In fact, for a long time, mindfulness to me was sitting with my legs folded on the floor and meditating. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that mindfulness is so much more than that. If something else could help me get into a state of relaxation that didn’t involve boredom on my part, I was all for it. 

For instance, I knew cleaning my house helped to calm my head, especially when I was in the midst of debilitating anxiety. There was something about using my hands to pick up toys, wash the dishes, or clear the clutter from the kitchen table. Recently, I discovered practicing mindfulness was exactly what I was doing: focusing my mind on the things my hands were performing. When my hands were busy, I noticed the calm that would come over me. Staying in the moment helped counteract the feelings of electricity coursing through my body. 

Using Mindfulness To Treat My Anxiety Naturally

A 2012 study from the Journal of Psychiatric Practice demonstrated how beneficial mindfulness-based stress reduction can be for managing anxiety, along with Zen meditation and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. What’s more, a 2013 study in China found mindfulness can reduce blood pressure after nurses and nursing students practiced 30 minutes of meditation daily for one week. Maybe there really was something to mindfulness after all. 

During the summer, I taught myself how to crochet. It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn, but I never reached out to anyone for help. So I picked up a beginner’s kit with brightly colored cheap yarn, and I taught myself. Several YouTube videos and texts with a friend later, I was practicing my chains, feet after feet of them, until I started simple stitches. Yarn over, draw up a loop, pull through, yarn over, pull through, over and over I sat with the yarn I bought from a thrift store, chaining and looping, stitches slowly coming together into small swatches. I made small lovies for my daughter, who was delighted to take my imperfect pieces of art. 

Just The Act Is Enough

I made my first scarf using a basic stitch. It was awful and crooked but even with the imperfections, crochet was one of the best things I could have taught myself. Not only was I learning how to make things that I no longer needed to buy, but the act of crocheting was what benefited me most. 

I realized on my own, before even heading to the internet to research how to use crochet for mindfulness, that this could help decrease my anxiety. At night, if I was feeling anxious while lying in bed, I would imagine my hands holding the yarn and hook. Over and over I’d practice in my head creating the stitches, the yarn gliding, making something out of nothing. I found out while crocheting “in my head,” my anxiety would lessen as I distracted my mind with the repeating stitches. 

What The Experts Are Saying About Mindfulness And Anxiety

“People who suffer from anxiety usually have problems handling the simultaneous rush of several thoughts in their mind,” explains Dr. Jaydeep Tripathy, a primary care doctor at Doctor Spring. “They have a problem digesting these [thoughts] and can get lost if they don’t have control over them. The state of mindfulness counters the experience that comes with anxiety, where a person can consciously distance from the feelings and thoughts and focus on the present.”

When my heart started pounding from the anxiety I was experiencing from the claustrophobia of being inside my home during the recent stay-at-home orders, it was my hook that I turned to, working the stitches, shutting everything out of my mind except for what my hands were creating. 

Joining online crochet groups, I confirmed my suspicions: crochet, like knitting, is a great tool to manage anxiety. That mindfulness doesn’t have to be limited to meditating alone. Some of the traditional mindfulness practices for how to stop a panic attack didn’t work for me. I can’t sit still without keeping my hands busy. It’s hard to quiet my mind as a mom of two kids who also works from home. But taking those pockets of time, stealing ten minutes here and there to work on a blanket—that I could get on board with. Continuously creating stitches of a blanket and quieting my mind taught me to work on noticing in myself when the anxiety was present and when it wasn’t.

“Mindfulness meditation practice can help us shift our relationship with anxiety,” says Sarah Jane Shangraw of Studio BE Mindfulness, “With refined attention and moment by moment awareness, we have the opportunity to note when anxiety is not present, revealing it as a temporary state such as boredom or happiness.”

Crochet Isn’t The Only Way I Treat My Anxiety

Crocheting isn’t always foolproof, of course. That’s the downside of having a mental health condition. There are certain circumstances when medications or other methods are needed in order to properly treat anxiety and other mental health concerns. But once I started crocheting, I learned there are a variety of means I can turn to when it comes to managing the thoughts and feelings that crop up throughout the day. I’m learning what works for me and what doesn’t. 

Dr. Tripathy acknowledges mindfulness isn’t a universal solution for all people. He explains mindfulness can work for many to reduce the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Mindfulness can also help lower blood pressure and help us focus our minds. When we consciously practice mindfulness, we’re becoming more aware of our bodies, especially when it comes to our breathing or the tension in our muscles. 

More Than Crocheting

Crochet isn’t my only means of becoming in tune with myself. I’ve also found deep breathing exercises, bullet journaling, and yes, cleaning my house are all helpful in my practice to become more aware of my anxiety and what’s going on in my body. 

“Like walking and washing the dishes and many other things we take up in daily life, knitting and crocheting are activities to which we can bring mindfulness,” says Shangraw. “The practice is not to be left on the cushion—that’s only where we give ourselves the best circumstances for training in mindfulness. When we bring this quality of attention into the rest of our lives and live from it is when the true transformation happens.”

Becoming More Aware

Coming up with new ways to practice mindfulness has helped me become more aware of the tension in my body when I’m stressed. I especially appreciate the techniques that never occurred to me, such as crocheting, because it gives me a variety in my mindfulness practices. They’re skills that are easy to turn to to help when I struggle with anxiety.  

Risa Kerslake

Risa Kerslake is a registered nurse and freelance writer from the Midwest. She writes about fertility, mental health, cancer, and women’s health topics. You can find her bylines as well as her blog on infertility and parenting at RisaKerslakeWrites.

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