It turns out that your grandma may have been on to something when she made all of those afghans, at least when it came to her own mental well-being. Knitting is on a short list of activities that elicit the “relaxation response,” a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School to describe “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress.” Benson – in an effort to figure out how humans can better deal with stress — discovered that repetitive activities like the ones above can have a dramatic impact on an individual’s well-being. In other words, knitting, crocheting, and other types of handiwork can help your body and mind to relax, which in turn, can make you healthier and happier.

Need more incentive to pick up a ball of yarn and some bamboo needles? Stress isn’t something to take lightly. A number of chronic health conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, depression, infertility, and anxiety are linked to high levels of stress, making stress something to really worry about. Indeed, an estimated 60 to 90 percent of health-care visits are in some way stress related, escalating its toll on human well-being to near-epidemic proportions; all of this to say that you don’t want to let stress go unchecked for long periods of time. Instead, try incorporating a stress-reducing activity into your life once or twice a day for as little as ten minutes each time. Chart your mood over a period of two weeks using a mood-tracking app (T2 Mood Tracker is an example) and see if you’ve knit your way to Zen.

If the idea of making a scarf or baby booties isn’t your cup of tea, don’t despair. The list of relaxation-inducing activities includes doing puzzles, practicing yoga, playing a musical instrument, repetitive-motion exercise such as running or walking, gardening, and looking for shark’s teeth, to name a few. What do all of these seemingly disparate things have in common? They: 1) involve repetition, and 2) require a kind of mindless focus. You have to pay attention very carefully when you’re trying to spot shark’s teeth amidst a cache of shells, twigs, and sea remnants, for example, but only with part of your mind. Both of these qualities (repetition and focused mindlessness) elicit the relaxation response, where breaths become more measured, heart rate decreases, and a feeling of calm comes over the body. Ahhh, doesn’t that sound nice?!

Tuning out the noise of everyday life and concentrating deeply can do wonders for your health. So if you’re someone who’s anxious, runs on stress, or gets easily overwhelmed, pick a relaxing activity or two and make it part of your daily routine. Dealing with your stress on an ongoing and proactive basis will help you to live a fuller and less worry-filled life.

Live in the Washington DC Metro area and want to visit a great knitting store? Try Fibre Space in Old Town Alexandria. It’s a very cool store with classes, drop-in knitting circles, and merchandise that’s tantalizing even for folks who are just trying out knitting for the first time. I took their three-session Intro course from a woman with more tattoos than fingers — definitely not your Grandma’s knitting circle!