I want to talk about mental health today. It’s world mental health day today, the 10th October. Mental ill health is something we all struggle with sometimes and yet easy as we may find it to talk about having a physical issue, people tend not to talk so easily about not feeling well mentally. This stigma is in my opinion a huge problem. It stops people seeking help and it makes people feel ashamed of not being in perfect health. This needs to stop. Nothing good at all comes from somehow pretending you bring mental ill health upon yourself or that you are somehow weak or lesser.
Mental ill health can cause enormous problems, some chronic and far reaching both for the person with the problems and for their friends, family and community. I have myself been through hell these last four months on account of my partner suffering a horrible breakdown and turning on me, his mother, his friends etc. If he had felt less ashamed he may have been more likely to seek help but as it stands he won’t as he is terrified of the stigma and terrified of what might happen if he admits to being ill. It has been hugely traumatic for all involved and it’s even more heartbreaking when you know it didn’t have to be this way. That there is help and support and medication out there.
On a less extreme note lots of us suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, depression etc. It’s so common, especially living in these hectic always-on times and in hectic big cities. I fully believe living like we do makes us sick. We arenft coping at all with all the non-stop digital input, the never switching off, the pressure of 24/7 social media and emails and news etc. We aren’t relaxing, we aren’t sleeping properly, we have forgotten how to be still and how to entertain ourselves. My kids complain of being bored all the time, even when they are watching TV. Any kind of break where the input slows down and their minds feel like they’re in free fall. They need constant stimulation. And it’s not just kids, most adults have an unhealthy relationship with their phone/ iPad/ laptop. It stimulates the reward centres in our brain and we are most of us addicted to technology in varying degrees. No wonder we are full of worries and anxieties and have panic attacks.
We need to slow down. Reconnect with the soil, with ourselves, with doing slow things. With being rewarded by real things such as smiles from actual people and vegetables grown on allotments. By connecting with people and making things with our hands. This is where I believe crafting has a huge role to play.
Slowing down to create something engages our brains in a much more deeply satisfying way than achieving another level on Candycrush ever can. When you are fully losing yourself in sewing a dress you actually forget to worry about other stuff, you are fully mindful and in the moment. And it’s not just sewing. Any kind of making has been shown to shift our brain activity in the same way that meditation does. It reduces our stress hormones and increases our dopamine (happy chemicals) levels. It helps us regain a slower pace of life and helps us focus. It has clinically been shown to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Our brains can only do one thing at a time. Being absorbed in following a pattern means we cannot worry.
“The repetitive motions of knitting, for example, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quiets that “fight or flight” response” (http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/25/health/brain-crafting-benefits/index.html)
Learning to overcome challenges in the sewing room can set us up to help us deal with bigger challenges in life. If we can finish a knitted jumper or sew a quilt it teaches us to approach life with a more can-do attitude too.
And of course seeing a finished item feeds back into that reward centre in our brains, creating a perfect loop of happiness. Or at least happier than when we reward ourselves with Facebook or gaming or wine.
I have taught many students who are not only here to make things but to help them cope with bereavement, anxiety and depression too. And they have without fail reported back on feeling better when they are regularly sewing. Or knitting or cross stitching or baking or gardening. Sewing is good for you, mind, body and soul. And yes I may be addicted to buying yarn and knitting but I’d rather have this addiction than one to drugs or alcohol!
I don’t know who to credit this fabulius piece of X stitch to. Not me, that’s for sure. It was a Bored Panda piece I’m sure, re-posted on FB. Sorry whoever made this, I love it and I’m totally reposting it here. Both because it’s a crafted item but also because actually I need to learn to fall in love with better people 😉