- In an Olympics where mental health was a subtext, gold-medal-winning diver Tom Daley controlled his stress by knitting between his competitions.
- Knitting and crocheting have been shown to have significant psychological and social benefits.
- Surveys of knitters and crocheters have found that significant numbers of them do their craft as a way to deal with daily stress.
You might not expect much overlap between professional athletes and yarn crafts. But Tom Daley, a diver who competed for Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics, was seen regularly knitting while he waited for others to complete their dives.
After winning gold in synchronized diving, he knitted a pouch for his medal to keep it from getting scratched. He also knitted a cardigan that featured elements of the Olympic rings and the British flag.
Daley was not just knitting to pass the time. He says he does it for his mental health.
“The one thing that has kept me sane throughout this whole process is my love for knitting and crocheting and all things stitching,” Daley said in a Facebook video.
“If you stay all the way up here with your energy levels and thinking about the dives, it ends up becoming quite draining by the end of it,” he told the Associated Press.
Mental health was an ongoing theme during the Tokyo Olympics. Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles, for example, had to step aside from several events because she was losing the mental focus she needed to perform some of her incredibly difficult vaults and routines.
Crafting Is Healthy
Daley is not alone in using yarn crafts like knitting and crocheting to help deal with stress and anxiety. The Craft Yarn Council, a trade association for yarn crafts, conducts surveys every year to find out who knits and crochets, why they do it, and to ask about the benefits they feel they gain from yarn crafts, according to Sarah Guenther-Moore, a spokesperson for the group. The group even has a website called Stitch Away Stress.
The Craft Yarn Council’s 2020 survey found that 83% of respondents make yarn creations to relieve stress. Ninety-three percent said knitting, crochet, or other yarn crafts helped them slow down.
According to data the Craft Yarn Council provided to Verwyell, in previous years, survey respondents have deemed yarn crafts a form of self-care, a mood enhancer, and a means of improving concentration.
Studies in medical journals have highlighted similar benefits. A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found that knitting had significant psychological and social benefits that contribute to wellbeing and quality of life.
Repetition and Creation
Experts say the repetitive motions of knitting and crocheting are to thank for mental health benefits.
“With hobbies like knitting and crocheting, that repetitive motion itself is very therapeutic,” Guenther-Moore tells Get Meds Info. “It allows your mind to kind of take a step back from whatever is bothering you—or causing you frustration or stress—and allows you to zone out while your mind focuses on that repetitive motion. Before you know it, 30 minutes later, you’ve knitted or crocheted several rows and you’re not thinking about whatever was stressing you out or frustrating you.”
Being able to see a final finished product is also mentally rewarding.
“Repetitive actions—from following a pattern for a scarf or needlepoint to doing dishes and raking leaves—offer a certain satisfaction both in the calming process and the concrete result,” Carrie Barron, MD, tells Get Meds Info via email. Barron is Director of Creativity for Resilience and associate
professor of medical education at the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also the co-author of The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness with Your Own Two Hands.
Barron says a large part of the sensory cortex of the brain is stimulated by meaningful hand use.
“Meaningful hand use also gives us a sense of autonomy and purpose, whether we are tending to our environment in routine ways or creating a work of art,” she adds.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, people started learning or returning to knitting and crocheting because they had time on their hands and wanted something stress-free to do, Guenther-Moore says.
“You know you’re doing something that is a skill that you have to practice and when you’re done, you have something that you’ve made. You can say, ‘I made that,’” she says.
Seeing someone like Tom Daley knitting can help influence people to try yarn crafts, Barron said. “Certainly, we are influenced by admired figures,” she says. “They can make it feel safe or cool or permissible to enter a new realm or engage in an activity we may never have thought to try. In this way, they open our imaginations as well.”
What This Means For You
Taking up a hand craft, such as knitting or crocheting, can help people cope with stress and anxiety. Both the repetitive actions of these crafts as well as the creativity involved offer mental health benefits.