When I find myself juggling multiple sources of stress, I pick up my needles. I’ve discovered knitting gives my mind squirrels something to focus on, and lets me untangle my thoughts.
You know the mind squirrels, right? The thoughts that chase each other around your head at the precise point when you know you need to stop thinking those thoughts.
In 2016, I would lie awake with a work squirrel and a personal life squirrel chasing each other around. Stop thinking about work, I’d tell myself, and up would pop the family worry. Stop thinking about that, I’d think, and of course the work one came back. Sometimes a third squirrel would join them, fretting over whether the kitchen would be flooded again in a storm. Those mind squirrels are pesky and persistent.
I took up running. I hate running. I did find an evening run wore those squirrels down though because it gave me something else to focus on. I could think about the worries and also about how much I hated running and could it be over soon, please. And if I’d tired those squirrels out earlier then I could sleep.
Last September I realised knitting provides a similar squirrel exercise opportunity. I’ve been knitting for a few years. Facing a tricky patch, with both work and personal worries again, I found myself in my local wool shop creating a sequence of small, portable projects. I’d realised how useful the hobby is, and I didn’t want to find myself going through a tough patch without new projects ready to cast on as soon as I’d cast off something. All the work was small, so I could easily through it in my bag and work on trains, at hospitals or – surprisingly often – the launderette.
There are many reasons I find knitting gives the squirrels a chance to exercise. For me it’s possible to knit (or run) whilst also thinking about something else. The squirrels can run about a bit, but they don’t get the full run of my brain. They might get distracted when I go wrong, or sort themselves out a bit.
The actual basics of these habits are really, really simple. In running, it’s putting one foot in front of the other. In knitting, it’s the mantra of “in, around, through, off”. Other knitters may have different ways of phrasing it, but I use the mantra my mother taught me (and I’ve taught my child). And, after a while, there’s muscle memory. I don’t need to think how to run, just as I don’t need to think how to knit. With knitting there’s the added bonus, for me, that I can do it whilst watching junk TV and not feel like I’ve ‘wasted’ an hour when I could have been ‘fixing’ those worries.
And there’s always something new to learn. Having got the hang of hats, mittens, scarves, cablework and the like, I’ve just learnt to knit socks. It’s absolutely not as cheap or easy as buying a pair, but it’ll mean I can feel productive whilst giving the squirrels room to roam. This is why, if anyone asks, I will not knit them a sweater. I will not turn this stress-reduction method into a new source of stress.
You can still ask, because I love the compliment to my work, but I will say no.
PS: the knitting stuff mostly happens – along with cats – over on my Instagram account.