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Inner Peas: Yarning for a way to relieve stress? Knitting may be the solution

(Michelle Fu/Daily Bruin)

By Allison Clark

Nov. 29, 2019 4:41 p.m.

Late-night coffee sessions and a constantly looming sense of stress may seem synonymous with the college lifestyle – but it doesn’t have to be that way. In their series Inner Peas, Daily Bruin contributors Allison Clark and Kayleigh Ruller will explore different ways students can easily practice various wellness tactics in their busy day-to-day lives.

For those looking to learn a practical new skill and de-stress from the taxing schedule of everyday life, the answer could be right at their fingertips.

For many UCLA students, knitting is the self-care method of choice, though the reason why may not be obvious.

The pace of the quarter system at UCLA is no doubt a difficult adjustment for many newcomers to the school, not to mention demanding routines for the more-seasoned upperclassmen on campus that take on activities such as research positions, club roles and jobs. So what’s the point of taking up a hobby that your grandmother traditionally does in the midst of all this responsibility?

A study of elderly patients showed that engaging in cognitive activities, such as knitting, can help reduce the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment later in life. It can also reduce stress, anxiety and depression. This is an especially important finding for college-age students who may struggle with stress compounded by schoolwork and outside responsibilities.

Savannah Spatafora, a second-year theater student and member of UCLA’s Embruindery Club, discussed knitting as a break from the pressure to study, be productive or get an internship.

“Especially at UCLA, people feel like they have to do something of the utmost importance all the time,” Spatafora said. “The value of knitting is that … it’s just sort of nice and gives you a place to relax. … You’re just doing it because you want to and because you like how it makes you feel.”

[Related: UCLA club teaches beginning needlework, forms tight-knit community]

The benefits can be seen no matter the frequency of the activity. Even one hour a week at UCLA’s The i-KNIT-iative meetings, for example, can bring about positive results.

The i-KNIT-iative is not your typical club. There’s no “business” in it in that there’s no agenda, no discussion of budget and no official officer titles in the club. There is only knitting – a meeting style befit for the nature of such a club.

Upon attending one of its Monday night meetings, a visitor would find that there is no officially elected “president,” but Caroline Schreck, a fourth-year environmental science student and the club’s most-senior member, is the de facto head.

Schreck herself knits only once a week, at the meeting. She said she enjoys knitting because it is both mindless and mindful at the same time.

It’s mindless, in that once you learn how to properly knit, it falls into a predictable rhythm. You can do it while listening to music, or watching TV, Schreck said.But it is also mindful in that you are called to the present moment to keep your hands working in the same pattern and to simply create a tangible, real object that you can feel and see as it comes to life, she added.

“I focus better when I’m doing something with my hands,” Spatafora said.

She said knitting helps calm her down because it is relaxing and repetitive. It provides an extra level of stimulation when talking to someone or watching TV, so that it feels more productive.

Spatafora also said it helps her focus better in a long lecture, and that something like knitting can help students recharge and possibly even be more motivated to go to class.

Schreck expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s kind of like forcing yourself to take a break,” Schreck said. “That’s something I’ve always tried to push with (The i-KNIT-iative).”

Being able to control an outcome and create something of your own imagination via knitting can be a good way to boost self-esteem too, as it teaches self-sufficiency, self-efficacy and an ability to see a bigger picture. The small stitches that are made add up to a greater, more beautiful outcome – one that we can share with others as gifts, too.

This gift-giving aspect can be another way to boost mood. Schreck and Spatafora both described finishing a larger project as the best feeling, and Spatafora said giving handmade, knitted gifts to someone is a good way to show them you care.

There are also plenty of helpful tutorials on YouTube that are beginner-friendly – including those of the knitting channel Sheep & Stitch, which cover everything from casting on yarn and different styles of knitting to casting off yarn and fixing any holes or mistakes in one’s pieces.

Tracy Zeng, a second-year Jewish studies student and a member of The i-KNIT-iative, recommends the Compatto Yarn Salon in Santa Monica as a good, local place for buying yarn. The Compatto Yarn Salon also hosts various classes for knitting projects.

Any self-care activity has its benefits. For many that means running at the gym, doing face masks or watching a movie. Knitting is not only an activity that can help students recharge, but it’s also one that helps prepare the brain to reap additional cognitive benefits later in life.

It’s never too late to pick up two needles and learn.

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