Health benefits of handiwork
Mar 21, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
One of my favorite weekend rituals is to watch CBS “Sunday Morning.” Curled up with the pups on the couch, sun streaming in, toast and jam waiting for me – it’s the perfect way to relax before the busy pace of work returns. This weekend’s broadcast had a theme: mind matters. One feature in particular stood out to my vintage sensitivities. In this feature they talked about the importance of handiwork to our modern mental health. It spoke to me as I’ve recently benefited from this new way of living (which is actually the old – “vintage” – way of living). You see dear reader I’ve taken up knitting. I’m not gifted in any stretch of the imagination and I have yet to complete anything beyond a square, but I find it incredibly soothing and deeply rewarding. Someday soon I’ll set my sights on making something more usable (although the squares are quite lovely!) – but for now I’m quite content to give myself adequate space & patience to learn. For someone who is always “go, go, go” this is a unique change of perspective. Until I saw this report I didn’t really understand why I felt so calm. It has to do with how my brain is wired and how modern life may not be feeding it what it needs. Let’s explore the health benefits of handiwork and discover why, as lovers of vintage, we must be even more diligent in this modern age!
April is recognized as stress awareness month and, when you look at recommended remedies for what many health professionals consider an epidemic, you find the solutions they are describing are vintage ideals. They espouse lifestyle choices that were never really decisions in decades back, but rather standards – facts of life. Recommendations like getting outside, being present / aware of what’s in front of you (not distracted by the mobile devices that have infiltrated our lives), and making something with your hands. Enter knitting – an age-old practice that is now believed to be a means for healing from a variety of situations: anxiety, depression, and even brain conditions like memory loss. Pretty amazing stuff for a practice that began in ancient Egypt.
Some scholars believe knitting has its roots in fishing nets and the art of tying knots. Naturally fibers deteriorate over time, but some of the earliest known knitted pieces include these super funky, red, forked socks. It’s interesting to note that knitting guilds in the 1400s were exclusive to the male gender. In fact it became a respectable profession with a full-fledged apprenticeship program. Gender bias aside it’s a keen reminder of the main thesis of CBS’ report – the modern idea of profession has taken on new meaning. The proliferation of desk jobs has made us really amazing at pushing buttons on a keyboard and, as a result, our reward system is much less tangible. While it’s nice to get a spreadsheet or powerpoint slide completed for a big quarterly report it’s not what I personally would call thrilling. The presentation of it or reactions of coworkers – that may be when emotion comes into center stage. Our physical activity just isn’t as closely tied to gratification as it used to be.
All this doesn’t mean our modern contributions are less than our historical efforts – the impact of technological advancement has granted us so many new opportunities. Yet modern development does usher in a new challenge – and it’s one of balance. How do we reward our brain (and ourselves) with something tangible? I keep thinking of all the Victorian romantic period pieces I enjoy. Young ladies, while restricted from having true economic independence, were experts at handiwork: embroidery, painting, drawing, etc. These pastimes were considered the hallmark of a refined woman, but today’s health experts might say these women were experts at recognizing the health benefits of handiwork.
Just as we discussed in our last post, there is real value in examining “the how.” Dear reader, ask yourself about how your typical day unfolds. How much of your day is monopolized by screen time (phone, computer, tablet, tv)? Do you prepare your own meals? Do you journal on pen and paper or on your computer? Is your physical activity mainly focused on working out (i.e. running, swimming, walking)? When you do work out, where does your mind wander? As we prepare for April, how will you choose to celebrate stress relief? Let me know in the comments dear reader and in the meantime I’ll try to advance from knitted squares to scarves…