This week was world mental health day. What have sewing and mental health to do with each other, you might ask?
I asked myself the same question quite a few times. Why? Some of you might know that when I’m not sitting behind the sewing machine, I work full-time as a psychologist. So naturally I’ve thought about how these two very different passions of mine might go together. Not just in theory, but also in practice. I’ve lead some sewing groups for patients in a psychiatric hospital and witnessed the wonderful effects it has on some people.
Sewing not only is a great coping strategy for some people suffering from mental health issues. It’s a really great way of preventing our mental health from getting out of balance in the first place. Most of the time we might not think about it consciously, but we certainly feel the effects of it. Ever asked yourself why you are so addicted to and passionate about your hobby? Why you feel so much better after squeezing in some sewing during a busy day?
I have listed a couple of reasons why sewing makes us feel better and why it might be a great hobby to try if you are struggling to keep a balanced mind.
1. Allowing yourself some “selfish” me-time
Do you feel guilty when you’re spending your free time with sewing for yourself? You shouldn’t be! Sewing is a great way to not only spend some time with yourself, but also do something for yourself. Everyone of us needs some pampering every now and then. Especially if you work in a helping profession or spend your day caring for your family and others.
Taking time for yourself is important. We all need to focus on ourselves every once in a while to prevent ourselves from burning out. Did you know that one of the main causes for burnout is measuring your self-worth by the things you do for others and the appreciation you get (or might not get)? If your sense of self and self-worth is solely dependent on making others happy your self-esteem is a very fragile thing.
In allowing yourself to be immersed in something you simply do for your own pleasure you can spend some quality time with yourself, simply because you’re worth it.
2. Spending time away from your smart devices to prevent sensory overload
This is a more important point than you might think. Smart phones/laptops/tablets etc. have become such a major part of our lives. Think about how much time – just how many hours – you spend on any of these three plus your TV during the day. Spending the evening watching TV, or lying on the sofa with your laptop might seem to be a very relaxing thing to do at first glance. What you’re actually doing is exposing your mind to a massive sensory input. This is why we sometimes feel just too fatigued and tired to do anything BUT sit in front of our laptop watching yet another meaningless video or scrolling through posts skimming through texts instead of properly reading them. Social media (Instagram and Bloglovin’, anyone?) might seem like a very low-key, undemanding thing to do to relax in the evening, but essentially it can lead to sensory overload. And if you don’t break away every once in a while you get stuck in a vicious cycle, being glued in front of a screen feeling unable to do anything else than that.
This seemingly effective and very easy way of distraction and ‘relaxation’ sometimes is nothing more than white noise in our lives. It can lead to feelings of unrest, dissatisfaction and exhaustion in some people, especially if you’re a results-oriented person. Ever felt like you haven’t accomplished anything during the day? Can’t remember what you actually did the last weekend? Going to work on Monday feeling exhausted despite having had two days off?
When you are sewing, you are doing something purposeful with your free time while you are giving your mind a proper chance to relax and reset. You’re in a happy, healthy little bubble that you leave with a feeling of relaxation and accomplishment.
3. Being mindful
This very much ties in with the topic above. Sensory overload also happens when we multi-task too much. And we cannot stay relaxed and balanced when we constantly do more than one thing at a time. It’s possible to eat your dinner in front of the TV, while texting on your phone and simultaneously making a to-do list for the next day in your head. Partners and kids not even included in this scenario. Our minds can do wonderful things. And multi-tasking has become some sort of a standard requirement in our time.
Don’t underestimate how incredibly important and healthy it is to focus on just a single thing. You might have heard about the concept of mindfulness, which is becoming more and more popular as a self-help and coping strategy. It means doing one thing at a time. Being concentrated on one thing alone and experiencing it with all our senses. Being in-the-moment.
It is very meditative and helps you to stay or become calm and relaxed. It helps to reduce stress and ruminating thoughts.
When you are sewing, you are basically forced to concentrate on one thing alone. You are fully immersed in your project. You have to go step-by-step. It’s not possible to multi-task, because you only have two hands and you need them both for every single step. There’s a certain order of things that you cannot evade if you want your project to be successful. A lot of sewing projects are demanding enough to keep our minds occupied and in-the-moment, without being stressful (hopefully!). And if your thoughts still keep running all over the place, try to consciously perceive your senses: Focus on the sound of your sewing machine, the scissors cutting through fabric or the feeling of a fabric between your fingers. Take everything in and enjoy the moment as much as possible.
4. Accomplishing something
Finishing a project feels like a major accomplishment. Holding or even wearing something you’ve made yourself, with your hands, from scratch, is an ineffably satisfying feeling. A sense of accomplishment is invaluable for our self-esteem.
And it’s not just about finishing a project and ticking off to-do lists. While you are working on a project you are learning new skills. You keep improving. You are developing effective problem-solving strategies. You have an opportunity to come up with amazing creativity.
Sewing gives you all sorts of reasons to feel proud of yourself and like yourself better.
5. Improving Body Image & Increasing Self-confidence
Since I started to sew, I’ve struggled less with my body image. I have often wondered how this is possible while I run around with a measuring tape, taking notes of my far-from-perfect measurements. This should be depressing. But somehow it is not.
Why does sewing help us get to grips better with our body image?
First of all, no more frustrating shopping trips! Shopping for trousers used to be a dreadful experience, always reminding myself that everything about my legs and bum was terribly wrong. Now, that I make my own clothes – including trousers – I do not have to go through depressing shopping trips anymore. I have learned more about sizing and that it’s simply unrealistic to fit in some average size.
Once you start sewing and get to know others who sew, you notice that almost no one has a perfect body. Everyone has to make adjustments. It’s a very rare thing to fit into the average size.
Also, sewing helps you to develop your own individual style and sense of identity. You can make something no one else has. Something special and very individual.
Furthermore, if you sew something that fits well, you’ll start wearing your clothes with more confidence.
Oh, and let’s not forget: Compliments!
6. Effective coping strategy
If you are struggling with stress and an unbalanced lifestyle or you are suffering from a lack of drive or depression, sewing might be a very helpful coping strategy for you. It’s the overall package of a sense of accomplishment, self-confidence, of being in-the-moment. It’s a healthy way of distraction and most importantly, you can make it as easy or complicated as you like or are able to manage at the time.
Sewing is a very structured process which allows you to work on a project piecemeal and set your own speed. It helps you to work on your concentration. As it’s a step-by-step process, you can pause anytime without the frustrating feeling of having failed completely.
Socialising is important to keep a healthy balance in your life, especially if you are suffering from depression and anxiety. The sewing community is a wonderful way to connect with people. You can even talk to other sewists online if you don’t feel like going out or find it difficult to meet new people. Whatever your needs are, there is a way to share your passion with others. Talking to like-minded people can be very motivating and fulfilling.
What are your personal favourite benefits of sewing? Please join the discussion and leave a comment below.
I hope you enjoyed reading this somewhat special post. I certainly enjoyed writing it! I would love some feedback! Please let me know if you found this article interesting or helpful, and would like to read similar ones in the future.
Stay in touch!