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Crafting a Way through Stress

First, I want to thank so many of you for your support and kindness.

As many of you already know, a member of my household received a serious medical diagnosis last month and, as such, is immunocompromised. So, I thank you for maintaining strict masking in the store so that I can protect her from any possible virus and bacteria.

Second, several of you have noticed that I've completed A LOT of projects over the past month. And, I mean A LOT. Why? Because when I have a lot of difficult feelings and intense stress going on, I craft. I also clean, cook, and bake, but for our purposes, I'll only focus on the crafting today.

According to the Craft Council: "Though seemingly different, the acts of baking, knitting, and gardening share characteristics that make them well-suited for self-care. These activities all help to improve mood and lower stress – the effort, multi-sensory engagement, repetitive actions and anticipation of satisfaction involved in making something are related to release of neurotransmitters that promote joy and well-being, while also reducing stress hormones."

So, when you hear people calling knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, and the like "the new yoga," they're actually on to something because craft does help lower cortisol levels, regulate heart rate, and bring about a sense of calm. In the UK, there are even craft groups for Veterans to help them work through PTSD.

Even Mental Health America promotes crafting for wellness. They note that knitting, in particular, has led to "lowered blood pressure; reduced depression and anxiety; slowed onset of dementia; distraction from chronic pain; increased sense of wellbeing; and reduced loneliness and isolation." According to the studies that were conducted, even those who participate in online-only craft communities experience the same social benefits as those who do so in person.

For me, craft is a way to exercise control over something relatively small. It engages my mind when I'm working through a more difficult pattern or trying out a new technique, gives me an outlet for nervous energy when I can't go outside and walk it off, and offers a feeling of accomplishment.

When I worked at the university, craft was a productive way to vent some of my frustration. Didn't like what the administration was doing with the money the school didn't have? I bellyached and said my peace at meetings and forums, and then went home and worked on a sweater. Felt frustrated by entitled students who didn't turn in their work but thought they should still receive high grades? Reminded them of the course policies in no uncertain terms, and then went home and crocheted my way through an amigurumi pattern book. Met an impasse with my research and couldn't quite see my way out of a particular project question? Took a break and made a very lacy shawl to give my mind something else to do. Caught a cold at the start of the semester because college students are notorious for spreading viruses? Sniffled my way through spinning a roving braid.

And, it worked. Craft became the touchstone that helped me feel centered while giving me something stable while the world changed around me. Like my yoga practice, I could leave everything else off the mat and just focus on being present for a few minutes.

Yes, though, it does seem easy for me to just say "well, I crafted my way through difficult times; maybe it will work for you." However, I get it. Not everyone finds solace in craft. I know plenty of people who have become more frustrated because they can't focus enough to get through a pattern that they would have otherwise found simple.

Here's my advice then: if you are struggling with following a pattern, don't push it. Maybe a pattern isn't the right way for craft to help you. Maybe you don't need instructions. Maybe you need to not have an end goal in mind.

Instead, try grabbing your favorite weight yarn and just knit or crochet or weave without a "thing" in mind. Don't think about the end product. Just let your hands DO. Same with spinning. Don't worry about whether or not your spinning is even or that you're spinning fine lace weight for plying. Just spin. Even if it's bulky and chunky and unusable. No one is grading you. No one cares if it's perfect. It's just the act of doing.

Heck, if it helps, maybe just spend an hour rewinding a ball of yarn. Or organizing your stash by color or weight or brand... or however you want to organize it. Pre-draft your roving. Take inventory of your notions and tools. Make a sock tube and then do afterthought everything later when you can focus.

There have been plenty of times when I've just felt like the world is so off its axis that all I can do is knit every stitch in the round over and over and over again without counting so that I have a giant tube.

And, maybe I'll frog the entire thing later and repurpose the yarn. Maybe I won't, and it'll sit in my closet.

It really doesn't matter because the craft is there, just waiting. It doesn't judge. It doesn't care if the project gets finished or frogged or forgotten. It just is.

And you'll be okay, too. We all will.

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