June 1, 2009 Jeanne Rust

Knitting and Anxiety Reduction

I read a newsletter the other day about how knitting can help alleviate anxiety for patients in an eating disorder treatment center. According to a study published in Eating and Weight Disorders: Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, "theoretical and empirical evidence suggests that performing a concurrent visuospatial task reduces the emotional intensity of distressing images." To determine whether a "visuospatial" task like knitting could reduce the anxious preoccupation experienced by anorexics, the researchers provided knitting lessons and free supplies to 38 women who were being treated for anorexia in a specialized eating disorder unit.

They found that 74% of the women reported that knitting lessened the intensity of their fears and thoughts and cleared their minds of eating disorder preoccupations. An equal number reported it had a calming and therapeutic effect, and 53% reported it provided satisfaction, pride and a sense of accomplishment.

Knitting was a popular activity at Mirasol adolescent treatment facility, and our clients created hundreds of yards of scarves during its four-year history. And yes, we found that knitting reduced anxiety and also helped the girls with social skill building among the patient population.

One of the byproducts of an eating disorder is preoccupation with what I'm going to eat, when I'm going to eat it, what I'm going to do with it after I eat it (and I'm not talking about doing the dishes!) .

"As long as I'm focused on all of my various, complex, ritualistic eating behaviors, the less I need to worry about anything or feel anything that might be going on in my "real" world.

Knitting is a simple, inexpensive and benign activity. Maybe that's why it works? It not a formal "therapeutic intervention" that might alienate some anorexics. I always think it's amazing that as soon as an anorexic is involved with an activity that has the potential to help her, she immediately puts up her guard and becomes fearful. It takes a long time for her to begin to trust that what we're doing isn't going to immediately "take away the eating disorder."

I'd love to hear more ideas for simple and effective ways "anxiety reducers"!