For a long while, ever since I started this blog series really, I have been wanting to write a post about how Crochet has positively impacted my mental health.
I’ve wanted to share my belief that activities which put you into ‘flow’ (as crochet does) are incredibly important in terms of switching off. It’s a tool I use to help support my mental health and I strongly believe it’s something that can help others who don’t know the secret!
Yesterday I completed a certification in Adult Mental Health First Aid, so this seemed like the perfect time to tie the two together. The training was a two day course from Mental Health England, which teaches you ways to help identify, approach and support those with mental ill health who may be in, or approaching a crisis.
The course does not teach you how to diagnose or treat mental ill health. Two days is certainly not long enough to scratch the surface, but it provides you with a framework and tools to help bridge the gap. To feel confident in listening to people who have mental health challenges, to support and guide them (not to treat them or tell them what to do, but to give information), to let people know that there is help out there, that recovery is possible.
What does flow have to do with mental health?
Last week I wrote a little about my own challenges with anxiety and dealing with the stories my brain tells me, often when I’m feeling vulnerable – usually this means I’m overtired, stressed or overwhelmed!
I joke about how when I have that panic I have left my hair straighteners on that this just means I’m tired. It took me a long time to learn this but it’s a great example of understanding your stress signatures and knowing the signs telling you that you need to take a step back.
I know that when I have looked after myself, my resilience builds up and I am way less susceptible to self doubt and less likely to believe the anxious thoughts and stories.
Part of the training enables you to encourage people to find supports other than traditional professional help. Flow activities are a great example of this kind of other support as they help to build this resilience. They allow you to escape from the constant chatter inside your own mind as well as from external sources whether that be the TV, work, social media, family pressures, relationships and all the other thinks we get thrown at us on a day to day basis.
You know when you hear people suggest exercise to help with depression, the endorphins and energy levels are well known reasons why, but the benefits from the flow achieved are another.
What is flow?
Being in flow, or ‘in the zone’ is that feeling where you are immersed in what you are doing in that present moment.
You know when you’re doing something and suddenly 2 hours have passed?
That is flow.
For me, crochet is a perfect example of something which puts me in this flow sate. It absorbs me but also allows my brain to wander and file the days events without letting me dwell on any negative thoughts. “Loss of reflective self-consciousness” is one of the defining elements.
Basically it’s a really good way to stop overthinking. For me, it’s almost like an active meditation.
If you want to know more about the science behind how flow works, the Wikipedia Entry is a very comprehensive place to start with lots of references.
How do I get into flow?
It’s no accident that a lot of common hobbies are flow activities.
People sneer at the word hobby, like if you have a hobby it must mean you don’t have a life. All I’ll say about that is that those people don’t have hobbies!!
So for me, crochet is a great way to get into flow but I appreciate that’s not for everyone and there are so many other ways to achieve this state. I took a drawing class last year and this was such a tonic. Just to sit for 2 hours with relative strangers who wanted nothing from me and to draw. I’m not great at drawing but that didn’t matter. Model building, playing a musical instrument or sewing are other great things to try.
Not all flow activities have to be creative – a lot of people say “I’m not creative”. I wrote another post about how everyone is creative, they just need to create – it’s not about being a master – everyone is crap when they start! Flow is about enjoying the activity for its own sake.
So many physical activities put you in flow, whether it’s yoga, hiking, cycling, dancing – they all absorb your attention and make you feel energised.
One thing to note about flow is that, according to the definition states that it should involve active participation and have a goal. So sitting and watching TV all night may be relaxing but it differs from flow in that it is passive and there is no goal at the end of it.
Flow activities should be challenging, but not so much that we can’t achieve them or that they cause stress. They give you immediate feedback and you must feel in control of them.
For many people who enjoy their jobs, part of that may be because a lot of their time spent working puts them into flow. I used to love putting together a good power point presentation – it got me right in the zone!
Flow activities are intrinsically rewarding in that the process of doing is enough reward in itself – the end goal is almost an excuse to start.
Even a good conversation debate can put you into flow. You know when you’ve met up with a friend, got chatting and suddenly 3 hours has passed and your coffee is cold.
That loss of time is one of the key indicators that you’ve been in flow.
Can you think about a time that happened and how good you felt about it afterwards?
If you’re looking for something which creates flow then start there, how can you recreate that? What else might put you in that place?
A word of warning. Not all flow activities are healthy or helpful. A lot of games connected with gambling can put you in the flow state but unchecked these can become addictive and problematic so it is always worth thinking about the bigger picture when choosing what flow activity to give your time to!
What are the benefits of flow?
Aside from the enjoyment of the activity for it’s own sake, there are lots of benefits to being in flow.
One of the main ones I experience is that ability to switch off, to leave the worries of the world in another place.
To successfully achieve flow, it’s important you have no distractions to take you out of it and focus only on the task at hand. This means it’s a great way to leave your phone alone for extended periods of time if you have a bit of a smart phone habit!
Being able to step away from our everyday lives for a while is a great way of bringing perspective. When you’re stressed out or worrying about something this perspective is vital in helping you to keep those concerns proportionate.
I am not a confident flyer so I always take crochet with me on the plane. I know that I can get stuck into that instead of dwelling on the fact that I’m stuck in a metal tube I have no control over!
Flow can also lead to improved performance and personal growth. Because flow activities do require a challenge, their repeated practice results in continued mastery of those skills needed. Whether that’s getting super fast at knitting or increasing your numeracy through sudoku, learning is so often a byproduct of flow.
Perhaps most importantly, people who experience more flow states also report experiencing more confidence, higher self-esteem and finding more meaning in life.
And people sneer at hobbies??? (face palm!)
I know that the various flow activities I factor in my life have helped me immensely, some of them (like blogging!) I discovered completely by accident, or I only realised I was in flow now that I sit down and think about all those occasions I lost time!
I hope you find this useful and if you have never really thought about flow before that you are able to identify existing or try some new activities which get you into your zone!
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