Using Crochet to Help Panic Attacks
TRIGGER WARNING: I write openly about my PTSD and panic attacks in this blog post.
This is a very different blog post than I normally write. Usually, I am writing about a new pattern or my full-time tent life. But today, I am going to open up about something I don’t really talk about much: my struggle with PTSD and panic attacks.
My hope is that this blog post will help you if you’re struggling with PTSD, anxiety or panic disorder. I also want you to know you are not alone. Mental health is a big deal and should never be taken lightly.
So today, I’d like to tell you a little about my struggle with panic disorder and how I’ve been able to use crochet for managing my panic attacks.
I remember when I experienced my first panic attack. I had no idea what was happening – I was terrified. Truthfully, I thought I was dying. I was lightheaded, had chest pain and heart palpitations, couldn’t breathe, and felt like I had electricity coursing through my brain (which I now know are called ‘brain zaps’).
These ‘episodes’ kept happening and I really thought that the end of my life was near. In fact, I had even gotten all of my affairs in order because I truly thought I only had a few weeks left to live.
Each time I would experience another episode, I would immediately panic because I knew what was to come. I feared these episodes because I would remember how awful the last one was and I felt like I simply would not survive through another one.
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I finally realized I was actually having panic attacks
If you’ve never experienced an anxiety or panic attack before, I understand that this may sound dramatic and like an exaggeration, but I can promise you that it is not.
Thankfully, I came to learn that I was, in fact, NOT dying and these episodes were actually panic attacks. I felt such an immense amount of relief! Because now I KNEW what was happening and now I was able to educate myself on how to manage it.
Finally on the (long) road to healing
The events that led me to experience these panic attacks are a whole other story – and one I will share in a separate blog post. But for today, I want to share with you how I learned to use crochet to help me through these terrifying (and yes, they are literally terrifying) episodes.
I do still struggle with PTSD, anxiety and panic disorder, however, I’ve come a long way and I’ve learned a lot about myself and am well on my healing journey. PTSD and panic disorder are not like a headache where you can pop some Tylenol and feel better in an hour. This takes TIME – and the desire to truly heal to not stay stuck in this cycle forever.
I began to use crochet to manage my panic attacks.
I have always crocheted simply for the love of crochet itself. I’m grateful for the ability to use my hands to create something beautiful – whether it’s for myself or to gift to others.
But I began to realize that I could use my crochet to help me through these terrifying episodes to keep my mind in the present moment. Additionally, crocheting helps keep me calm and relaxed. Remaining calm during a panic attack is so important but it’s a lot easier said than done. You can’t just tell someone, “Calm down.” (I wish it were that easy!)
Staying present and remaining calm takes a lot of mental strength – I don’t think people realize how hard it is to stay present when you feel like you’re gasping for air or you think you are dying.
Staying in the present moment
So I began to pick up my crochet hook and yarn each time I had even a hint of an anxiety or panic attack. As I crocheted, I focused on each thing that was happening. Watching the hook move through the stitches. Feeling the yarn move through my fingers. Counting silently to myself.
All of these things helped me to stay in the present moment so that my mind did not start reeling with thoughts of panic.
My go-to stitch
While some people may have a go-to song or meditation for their panic attacks, I actually have a go-to stitch: the almond ridges stitch.
Something about this particular stitch is so calming for me. It’s not a single stitch that you make over and over – my mind would still wander if I did something very redundant. But it’s not so complicated that I have to constantly check a pattern to make sure I am making the right stitch in the right place.
The almond ridges stitch requires the maker to crochet a four-stitch sequence throughout the row. This is just the right balance of repetitive motions and mindfulness to keep my mind present and calm.
With anxiety/panic also comes depression.
It seems that anxiety and panic go hand-in-hand with depression. My mind will go from racing thoughts of me dying to a completely depressed state at the drop of a hat. All of a sudden, I’ll be in a very low place and just want to lay in my bed in the fetal position.
Although I’ve never been suicidal, I have lost the will to live many times.
Being able to pick up my crochet project and create something with my hands gives me a sense of purpose. It helps pull me out of those dark times when all I want to do is lay in bed and cry all day.
Crocheting has also helped my insomnia
Insomnia also seems to be a fun by-product of anxiety/panic. I struggle so much with sleepless nights simply because I cannot turn my mind off.
So when it’s time to go to bed, I’ll make my favorite cup of tea and pick up my hook and yarn and let them take me away. Once again, watching the repetitive motions of my crochet hook calms my mind and actually helps me to feel sleepy. After crocheting for a bit, I can then settle into bed with a quiet mind.
Blankets are my favorite project
Crocheting a blanket is definitely my favorite calming project for anxiety. I like having long rows to crochet. I don’t have to crochet in a hurry. Blankets generally have lots of repetition. Lastly, I find the slight weight of the blanket on my lap to be relaxing as well.
Another reason I am drawn to making blankets for my anxiety is that they are a ‘constant’. What I mean by that is, a blanket is a larger time commitment which means I have it in my project bag for a while before it’s finished. So I know it’s always there for me to pick up when I need help staying calm or I need help coming out of a depressive episode. My blanket project is something I can look forward to during times of anxiety.
My Fireside Blanket is my all-time favorite blanket to make. It is a chunky blanket that uses my favorite calming stitch: the almond ridge stitch. I absolutely love getting cozy and sitting down to work on one of these blankets. So this is always a winner for me.
Another blanket that helps keep me relaxed is my Camper Blanket. I designed this last summer and enjoyed working on it so much. I was actually a little sad when I finished it. This pattern does use five different colors of yarn, but the color changes are in blocks and very simple to do.
You are not alone
I hope this blog post has given you some encouragement. I also hope that you know you’re not alone. Dealing with anxiety and panic disorder is much more common than people think, and honestly, it should be discussed more.
So if you’re struggling with anxiety, I’d like to encourage you to pick up a crochet hook and start crocheting! Pick out a yarn color and texture that you find calming and make a special project just for YOU.
Like I said above, keeping your mind present takes a lot of mental strength and it’s not an easy thing to do. But I’ve found that using crochet for my panic attacks has made this so much easier for me. And I hope you can find the same healing through crochet as well.
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