Research shows that creating something with your own two hands stimulates brain chemicals that improve mental health.
The old saying goes, “idle hands are the devil’s playground,” meaning that being bored, disengaged and disconnected from physical work leaves too much time and space for your body and mind to fill with negative substitutes.
Neuroscience actually supports this theory. Or at least, research shows that the converse is true—active hands stimulate your brain to produce chemicals that balance emotions and lower anxiety.
Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond, Virginia, has coined a term, “behaviorceuticals” to underscore how just as a drug can alter the chemistry of our brains, positive behaviors can impact our emotional health.
Lambert told CBS News that in the 19th century anxious women were often given the prescription to knit because doctors “sensed it calmed them down some.” This is not to say that anxiety can be cured by knitting. But it does highlight how the repetitive hand movements involved in the craft, combined with the satisfaction of casting off a finished product to wear or give, carries mental health benefits at a deep, biochemical level.
Other research has focused on knitting’s emotional benefits, like one study that showed knitting lowers the heart rate by 11 beats per minute, another that linked knitting with a diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss, and still others that point to positive benefits in managing chronic pain and depression.
Of course, knitting is not the only way to take your emotional wellbeing into your own hands. Woodworking, gardening, pottery, painting, beading—anything that involves putting your two hands to work will benefit your mental health.
What do you do with your hands to keep them busy and keep yourself calm and happy?