stitch and stretch to banish stress

Stitching and stretching rank high among activities to lessen stress.

Stitching and stretching rank high among activities to lessen stress.

Hey all! Guess what I discovered this week from the Craft Yarn Council's Instagram feed? April is Stress Awareness Month! Despite the month being almost over (!!), I feel like this is an important topic to discuss. Lucky for us, our stitch and stretch hobbies can help us to ease daily stress, so let's celebrate the many reasons why!

A Glimpse into the Types of Stress

Stress, whether eustress or distress, is a part of everyday life. Eustress is the term used to describe 'positive' stress, such as what you would potentially experience from getting a promotion at work, or getting married. This type of stress is often short-term and motivating, bolstered by enthusiasm and excitement.

Distress, or negative stress, on the other hand, is - as its name implies - distressing. When people say they are 'stressed out,' they are referring to distress. This type of stress can manifest from any number of things - real and imagined, big and small- and can be short- or long-term. Acute or chronic negative stress can cause a number of health issues, affecting physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, such as high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, anxiety, and depression, among several others. Many people have become accustomed to living at a heightened level of stress day in and day out, feeling the continuous pressure to be better and do better, and as a result, their health suffers. I have had periods of acute stress throughout my life, and I can attest to the way it affects every aspect of life.

An article by Harvard Medical school reports that, 'Stress-related health problems are responsible for up to 80% of visits to the doctor and account for the third highest health care expenditures, behind only heart disease and cancer.' That's pretty big. The good news is that there are a lot of preventative activities that can lessen stress before it becomes debilitating. Not only will you feel better by turning to activities like stitching and stretching, you'll also keep doctor visits and health issues at bay.* Stress Awareness month gives us all the opportunity to take stock of the level of stress in our lives, reflect on how it affects us, and learn how to manage it. 

How Do Stitching and Stretching Banish Stress?

Have you ever been so stressed that all you can think about doing (so as not to scream) is roll out your yoga mat or reach for your stitchwork? These two hobbies have amazing potential to lessen stress, but how? Below I've listed some symptoms of stress along with how stitching and stretching effectively work to counteract those effects. 

- High blood pressure: One of the first symptoms of the stress response is an increase in blood pressure. Stitching and stretching actively work to lower blood pressure, slow breathing, and decrease the release of stress hormones by eliciting the relaxation response. (I talked about this in a recent post discussing knitting and yoga.)

- Racing mind: We've all been there - when your mind is so full of thoughts that you can't think straight. Activities like knitting, crochet, sewing, and yoga can be likened to an active meditation because they increase focus and concentration by engaging the body and mind. A little eustress in this instance is a good thing. Motivating challenges like performing new stitch techniques, following a new pattern, or practicing different yoga postures can increase your level of attentiveness, while distracting you from distressful thoughts. 

- Hopelessness: When you've got so much on your plate and you don't feel like you're getting anything accomplished, stress levels can skyrocket. But working toward a certain yoga posture, or completing a handcrafted piece can give you a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Seek hope in your tremendous abilities. 

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- Living in the past/future: Stress has an uncanny way of drawing your mind back to the past or projecting it into the future, creating unnecessary worry and anxiety. Stitch and stretch hobbies promote present moment awareness through intention. In yoga class, the intention is to focus on the breath, oftentimes linking movement with the inhales and exhales. Additionally, you may decide to offer your yoga practice up to someone or something as an intention. The reasoning for setting these intentions is that, should you become distracted during practice, you can always return to presence in the breath, or that person or thing to which you assigned meaning before practice. The same can be true for stitching. Setting an intention to make something for someone or for yourself can be a perfect anchor in stressful situations. Keep coming back to the intention behind your project - who you're making it for, what occasion it will help celebrate - and you'll continue returning to the present. 

- Aging body and mind: Did you know that stress accelerates aging? Loss of flexibility and decreased cognitive function can happen more quickly with heightened stress levels. We know that physical movement can promote dexterity and flexibility, but it can also help delay aging. And keeping the mind active by learning new activities, can work wonders to slow aging. Stitch and stretch forward, and roll back the clock. My Nonna practiced yoga for over 50 years and lived to be 96. Her sister, a professional seamstress, passed away at 101 years old. Looks like these stitch and stretch sisters were onto something!  

- Tightness/tension: Stress can manifest physically as tension or tightness in the body. Hello, shoulder knots! Keeping the hands and body nimble through stitching and stretching will keep the stress tension at bay. (Though I will recommend getting up and moving your whole body every once in a while when you're stitching so that you don't get too tight in the hips from sitting!!) 

- Being everyone for everyone: Have you ever felt like you need to take care of everyone else before yourself? You can become so busy helping everyone around you that any time meant to be devoted to yourself gets reallocated to someone else. Now, I'm not telling you that you need to become selfish with your time. What I am telling you is that carving out some time to do something for yourself can actually make you better fit, mentally and physically, for those who need you. You can't take care of others if you don't take care of you. Give yourself time to stitch and stretch when you can - your people will thank you! 

- Loneliness: Stress can be isolating. When you think you're the only person that is going through something, or you don't have anyone to talk to about your problems, stress can increase. Thankfully, there are communities built around your hobbies. I know for me, I need to go to yoga classes weekly, so that I feel like I'm part of a bigger picture. Moving in community amplifies energy! And have you heard of Stitch n' Bitch groups? These social knit gatherings can be dated at least as far back as World War II, and provide knitters the opportunity to get together to talk while they stitch. Crocheters, your groups have been referred to as 'Happy Hookers,' and sewers, there are groups for you too! Check your local directory or shops in the area for groups/classes near you. 

- Burnout: When you feel like you can't handle the stress anymore, you may wind up exhausted, fatigued and burned out. At times like these, reach for something that doesn't take too much brainpower, like gentles stretches or rote stitching. Your trusted hobbies can help build you back up and provide your soul with nourishment and solace. 

- Feeling like everything's bleak: Everyday, news outlets around the world, report on the atrocities of the day. Things can start to look pretty grim, and it can be quite upsetting. Rather than stressing about bad news, turn to your hobbies. Making something useful and lovely out of some yarn and fabric is fun and fruitful. Moving your body inspires grace and gratitude. Appreciate that your world is beautiful when you focus on what lifts you up. 

Chances are that you stitch and stretch to feel good. Even if you didn't know how stitching and stretching worked to banish stress, you were still reaping the benefits. Don't forget to check into your stress levels from time to time, and add more hobby activities if need be! How do stitching and stretching help you banish stress? 

*It is important for you to seek professional medical assistance if you are experiencing high levels of stress.