Knitting Through Stress
We all experience stress at different times for many different reasons. Knitting can be a healthy distraction and provide moments of relaxation even when you’re experiencing turmoil in your life. BUT the project you choose matters! Some are better suited to stressful times than others.
Sometimes when you’re under a lot of stress, there’s a mental exhaustion or decision fatigue that makes you either overthink everything or dive in with no thought at all because the overthinking just makes you more exhausted. Or is it just me?
I want to help you find a space somewhere in the middle and think beyond just the knitting project. Take a few moments to slow down and focus on where you are in your life right now. Close all your other tabs, brew some tea, grab a notebook if that helps you focus, and then come back.
Like I said, stress can come in many forms. It can come up suddenly or you can know it’s coming ahead of time, you might know when it will be over and you might not. The unknowns are especially hard. But aside from your circumstances, the real question is:
What do you need right now?
Quick win (a small item like a plushie that can be knitted in one piece, or a squishy, extra bulky scarf)
Escape/Distraction (Maybe a more interesting stitch pattern, but keep it to a 2-row repeat)
Something to channel your nervous energy into (literally anything as long as you don’t have to pay too much attention to the pattern)
Comfort (something really simple like stockinette or garter stitch, and make sure the yarn is extra soft and a soothing color)
There’s a little overlap in some of those, so don’t feel like you have to pick just one.
Some possible scenarios:
If you feel like someone is always mad at you, whether it be your boss, spouse, kids, or total strangers, or you can’t shake that feeling that no matter what you do, there’s always something you’re failing at, you might need a quick win to remind you that you’re not so bad after all.
If you’ve got a lot of things weighing on you and your mind feels loud, you may need some healthy distraction to quiet things down in your insides. Scrolling on your phone only makes it louder, so why not knit?
Maybe you’re newly sober, or spending a lot of time with a loved one in the hospital. You can’t go about your usual routine and it’s making you restless. You need to get your hands busy while still being present and available.
If you’re grieving a loss, whether it be someone you loved or a relationship, I’m so sorry. I wish I could hug you. The right knitting project can be comforting.
Are your days chaotic and you need a way to unwind before going to bed? Are you feeling stifled and need a creative outlet to make you feel like yourself again?
How much time do you have, and where will you be during that time?
Do you have time at home before bed most evenings?
Does it come in short, unpredictable segments, like in the school pickup line or waiting at the doctor’s office?
Will you be knitting during therapy sessions?
Are you sitting with a loved one in the hospital for hours at a time? Or are you the one who is hospitalized or on bedrest?
It’s important to think about how well a knitting project will fit into those situations and if it needs to be easy to put down and pick back up without losing your place or all your stitches.
I’ve had a few projects that weren’t the best choice at the time.
Mr. Badger was fun, but some intense stress entered my life while he was in progress, and I ended up not knitting at all most days because I just couldn’t focus well enough. (perhaps the biggest downfall of being a monogamous knitter) He involved a lot of concentration because it's a small-but-intricate stuffed animal, with various pieces of clothing (some of which I improvised to look the way I wanted) I probably should have shelved him temporarily and started working on something simpler until things calmed down.
Hannah Thiessen, author of Slow Knitting, which I have not read but really want to, shared this with me:
My heart always says "make a sweater" but the reality is that I cannot make sweater pieces with shaping while stressed or inattentive. I have to use easily repeatable / memorize-able patterns for this type of knitting! That said, sometimes the opposite can be better--burying myself in a knitting pattern that is a bit complex, with just some music in the background, can help bring me focus away from things stressing me out in everyday life.
And then she showed me her struggle sweater, and obviously I can relate!
My Channel Cardigan, as much as I love it, required more mental energy than I had, even though I wasn't necessarily more stressed than usual. It turned out fine, but I had to stop and rip out mistakes quite a bit. The chevron pattern wasn't exactly complicated, but it was impossible to get into any sort of rhythm with it, and the yarn color was just dark enough that I couldn't see it when the lights were dim. A fun project for sure, but not when you're already under a lot of stress.
When I was deciding on a sweater this year, I was fairly stressed (okay, I was extremely stressed; that's why I dropped off from blogging for so long...), but had decent chunks of time.
I decided to go with the Scotty Sweater by PetiteKnit, because it’s mostly stockinette, was knit in a solid color and had a forgiving fit. Even the plaid design is done one line at a time in a very un-complicated way.
Sometimes when it was time to pay more attention and do something, like short rows, I would go several days without working on it at all, until I had the time and mental space to execute it. And that’s okay. As great as knitting is, if you start to feel like you have to be knitting every spare moment, you run the risk of making knitting stressful again.
It’s okay to sometimes do nothing. Or just watch sit still and watch a movie. Or even better, sit in the quiet and pay attention to your feelings.
Where to start
A good place to start is looking through your yarn if you have some and picking the softest one in your favorite color. That alone will make any project more enjoyable. If the yarn doesn't feel nice to your hands or the color makes you mad or sad, do you think you'll feel great working with it?
Choose a stitch pattern that’s easily memorizable. With the right yarn, a garter stitch scarf can be quite lovely! Stockinette in the round on circular needles is also very soothing sometimes. The idea is to get going on a repetitive, rhythmic stitch and let your mind wander, without having to worry about losing track of where you are in a pattern. If you want a little more stimulation, something like seed stitch or fisherman’s rib are easy to pick up any time without having to work hard to remember what’s next.
I would say that if you are in the mood for learning a new technique, to do it on something very low-stakes. Don’t try to make something that will leave you feeling devastated if it doesn’t turn out right. You can even just make sample swatches of new stitch patterns you haven’t tried before!
The less tools required, the better, especially if your knitting time is anywhere other than at home. If you can grab it and go, or pick it up and know exactly what to do to start again, you’re on the right track.
Stay away from things that require a lot of stitch markers, stitch holders, cable needles, constant measuring and counting, etc.
Embrace imperfection! Right now there are probably a few things that require more attention from you than usual. Rather than trying to control everything you possibly can, tend to the few things that really matter and be okay with the rest being lower than your usual standard.
Let your knitting time be a break.
Because I care about you, I’ve picked out a few patterns that might work for you. If one appeals to you, great. If not, seriously, just grab your yarn and some needles and just start knitting. Don’t even worry about what you’re making.
I do have one pattern called “Master of Scarves.” It’s garter stitch with some simple increases and decreases and doesn’t require a lot of looking at the pattern.
For knitting without a pattern, some possible projects are the classic garter stitch scarf (knit every row) or a seed stitch blanket if you want something bigger that you can really settle in with. If you want to make some small quick things that still don't require too much effort, little coasters, or "mug rugs" are a fun way to play around with stitch patterns. They're basically gauge swatches with a purpose.
After it’s done, there’s a strong likelihood that this item will serve as a reminder of this stressful time. If that hat you made brings up painful memories every time you touch it, it might be better to pass it on to someone else who will enjoy it and appreciate it. And in doing so, you can take something that was sad and use it to brighten someone else’s day. What’s more beautiful than that?
Things will get better.
In the meantime, I hope these tips relieved some of your decision fatigue and that your next project is a source of comfort. The last thing I will leave you with is advice I got from one of my best friends when I was going through some really hard things:
“Drink your water, eat your vegetables, and take your vitamins.”
Doing those 3 simple things really does make a big difference.