One of the main mental benefits of sewing (or any other hobby) is that it is an intentional part of the day spent doing something purely for the joy of it. While small children have pockets of unstructured play time throughout the day, as adults we don’t get it unless we make the time for it. Between work, parenting, chores, and the many other responsibilities that fill up the day, it can be easy to neglect time spent just for ourselves.
More than just being dedicated time for play, sewing also provides a break and much needed pause from emails, notifications, and the endless scrolling that may be enjoyable but not very restorative. Scientists are increasingly studying a phenomenon known as digital sensory overload, whereby our brains become overwhelmed with the amount of information we ask them to process each day. They have found that it is in “offline” moments where memories are formed and stored, creative connections are made, and we can truly rest from the day. Sewing gives us this pause, allowing us to create something physical with our hands and take a break from constant multi-tasking.
Taking time to focus on just one thing at a time (in this case sewing) is a practice known as mindfulness, and its positive health benefits are enormous. Just 15 minutes a day of mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, curb ruminating thoughts, improve attention and memory, and promote self-regulation. It can also lower the heart rate and blood pressure, and over time makes us better at staying present and living in the moment — which in turn can boost happiness.
To make the most of sewing’s meditative qualities, try spending active time focusing on the act of sewing with all five of your senses. How does the fabric feel in your hands? What does it sound like running through the machine? Pay attention to your thoughts and practice positive self-talk where possible. This works best without the TV on in the background (which can make it harder to notice your thoughts), but if Netflix in the background brings you the most joy then by all means don’t let us stop you. Just note that mindfulness is something that takes practice, and even if you try this for 10 minutes at a time to start, it will become easier over time.
Another way to create a more relaxing experience when you sew is to take time to consider your environment. While aromatherapy is commonly associated with essential oils, it is really just the practice of using scents to affect your mood. The olfactory system in the brain involves both the amygdala (emotions) and the hippocampus (learning), which means that scents are deeply tied to emotional memories. This is why certain odors can instantly remind you of a childhood holiday or the memory of a loved one. If there is a certain scent or candle that you already know brings you joy, don’t be afraid to take advantage of it in the sewing room to create an uplifting ambience.
Music has a similar effect on our mood, and is a common aid to stress-relieving activities. Studies have shown that the right music can help relax tense muscles, lower blood pressure, and slow heart rates. Like scent, music and the emotional significance attached to it can vary from person to person, so these effects are highly dependent on the type of music listened to. Try taking the time to create your own playlist with music you know makes you feel happy, relaxed, and will contribute positively to your time sewing.
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that not every day is going to be a good day, both in life and in sewing. It is okay to get frustrated, to take short or long breaks from sewing, and to switch projects when sewing is causing you stress rather than relieving it. Don’t be afraid to set your own pace (despite what you may see on social media), and work on tasks that are as easy or as challenging as you can manage in any given moment. Ultimately, you are the best arbiter of what feels good, and the beauty of sewing is that you can always adjust and make it work for you.