How many times have you heard that sewing is cheaper than therapy? I’m sure I see that weekly in the online sewing community. This quip inspired me to explore sewing for depression and anxiety.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness declared Oct. 7-13, 2018, Mental Health Awareness Week. NAMI wants the 20 percent of Americans — and I’m one of them — who live with mental illness to do so without shame, fear, and silence.
Sewing helps many sewists manage mental illness. This craft can help you feel less low, and I think the support sewists give each other also provides a boost. I thought hard about my sewing practice and my depression and anxiety, and I came up with 24 (more, really) ways sewing can brighten your mood. I hope you, too, reflect on how making stuff impacts your mental well-being.
My Experience with Depression and Anxiety
I’ve had significant depressive episodes lasting weeks (sometimes months) on and off since college. In 2016, in the throes of a depressive episode and unable to talk or logic my way out of it with my husband (who was trying really, really hard to help me), I finally sought medical attention. I was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I started therapy and medication, and things got better. Most of the time, I feel like a capable human being, worthy of love and patience and able to work through what life throws at me.
And that’s where I am today. I’m also better at sharing when I feel anxious or depressed, and I have strategies for flipping the script on those feelings. I’ve accepted that my brain doesn’t work right without meds, and I can’t be at my best unless I manage my mental illness.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I love to sew. 😋 I’m a maker, through and through. However, making sometimes exacerbates my depression and anxiety. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get things right the first time. This is unhealthy, and I actively work on it. When a sewing project doesn’t turn out perfect, I sometimes get down on myself and start negative self-talk.
To combat this, I focus on learning and on the process rather than the finished product. But it’s hard. Really, really, really hard. Since I started treating my depression and anxiety, I’ve gotten a lot better at giving myself a time out when I feel those bad vibes rise.
If you’re in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). There’s hope, you are loved,
and the world needs you.
Mental illness and its treatment are deeply personal. What works for me isn’t going to work for everyone. If you think you might have depression and anxiety or another flavor of mental illness, I strongly encourage you to explore treatment, and that doesn’t necessarily mean seeing a doc and going on meds.
Getting screened to understand what’s going on is a great place to start. Reach out to your primary care doctor or call the NAMI HelpLine to discover mental health resources in your community. If you’re in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). There’s hope, you are loved, and the world needs you.
Sewing for Depression and Anxiety: The Projects
Here’s what you came for: sewing ideas to help you better manage your depression and anxiety. Look, sewing projects are not a panacea, but they could help you feel lighter for a while. And when you’re feeling low, any lift is a good thing.
Heads up: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Many of the links are examples of things you can sew. In most cases, I leave it up to you to find a tutorial or pattern for suggested sewing projects. If you click an Amazon link and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your “sew”pport.
Love Your Body: Sewing that Relives Physical Symptoms
Max and relax. Some depressives get sleepy and lethargic, and some can’t sleep. (I’m the former.) No matter how your depression and anxiety symptoms manifest, sometimes there’s nothing else to do but take it easy. Here are some chilled-out sewing projects.
Silk pillow case: They’re supposed to be gentle on your hair.
Pajamas: Try flannel Carolyns or linen Lakesides, depending on the weather.
Faux fur blanket: Admit it, when you walk past fake fur and sheepskin you touch it (but stop short of rubbing it on your face).
Weighted blanket: You’ve heard of a ThunderShirt for stressed-out pets. This is the same idea, but for anxious humans. I love lying under pile of blankets.
Robe: If you’re going to have a mental health day, do it in style.
Finally, treat yourself to some fab entertainment, including (but not limited to) Amazon Music Unlimited, Audible, and Amazon Prime.
Get thee to the gym. I need to work out regularly to feel my mental and emotional best. If you’re like me this way, try sewing activewear, a gym bag, and a wet bag for sweaty gym clothes or a soggy swimsuit.
Keep your essentials on hand. Make a hip pack for stashing your phone, keys, energy bars, etc. when you’re sweating out those bad vibes.
Take your sewing practice out of doors. Fresh air and sunlight, even when it’s overcast, can help you get your head right. Sew yourself a jacket (here’s an anorak pattern sewing guide), mittens, or scarf. If you’re someplace sunny, I recommend sewing the Lucent visor. And while you’re out there, take sewing inspiration from the color palette around you. For example, on Instagram, @sewheidi does a daily color palette.
Personalize your yoga practice. Clear your mind with yoga and tenderize tight muscles. Sew a yoga strap for stretching and a (matching, maybe?) bag for your yoga mat.
Make bath tea. Add dried herbs to a hand-sewn tea bag and slide into the bath. For a few minutes, anxiety will melt away.
Tend Your Soul: Sewing that Supports Emotional Well-Being
Make a journal — and use it. There are TONS of tutorials for making a journal (e.g., this one or this one or this one). Choose a tute and bust those fabric scraps. Journal about what’s on your mind, gratitude, sewing wins, or sewing plans. Heck, make it a burn book. Get stuff out of your head.
Spruce up your sanctuary. There’s a lot of sewing you can do for your home, and existing in a space you love, that puts you at ease, only can aid your emotional well-being. Stitch pillows, curtains, a quilt, fabric-scrap rug, or a duvet cover. A clean house is a happy house (at least I feel better when my house is clean). Sew reusable “paper” towels, customize kitchen towels, or make a housekeeping apron for dirty jobs.
Find comfort with a cushion. Sew a big pillow for meditation, prayer, or deep breathing. Relish your healing quiet time.
Go old school. Buy some plain handkerchiefs. Customized them with embroidery, stamps, or decorative stitching. Have yourself a good cry without blowing through a box of Kleenex.
Hit the road. If you take meds to manage your depression and anxiety, sew yourself some travel pouches. Ta-da, no more bottles rolling around your bag or getting jumbled with your makeup or hair stuff.
Shine on. Sew bright clothes or fancy clothes — anything that makes you smile. My guess is there’s a color that you’re always drawn to; start there. As you sew your garment(s) include sweet tags and wack-a-doo linings. This is your armor when nasty thoughts bring you down; this is a trick from the Department of Fake It Till You Make It.
Get Out of Your Head: Sewing that Takes Your Mind Off Your Mood
Make something for someone else. Sew a softie for your favorite kiddo. Make easy pajama shorts for your sweetie. Find a charity that needs sewn items. Stitch a bandana for your pooch or pillow for your kitteh. Do good, feel good.
Make a plan. Start a vision board for an upcoming sewing project. Do this physically with photos, paper ephemera, scissors, glue, washi tape, cork board, etc., or go the digital route with Pinterest, Canva, PicMonkey, Polyvore, Evernote, or even Google Slides. Articles in Psychology Today report that making lists helps you prioritize and create a sense of inner mastery and visualization trains the brain for actual performance. In other words, execute your sewing BEFORE your execute your sewing.
Practice a technique. Get hung up on topstitching? Do zippers freak you out? Dig into the scrap bin and practice, practice, practice. The stakes will be low, and when you face this technique again, it’ll be a breeze.
Teach someone else to sew. Share your love of sewing with a newbie. Teach them things you wish you would have known when you started out. It’s hard to think about yourself when you’re thinking about what someone else needs.
Stitch a sampler with an inspirational quote. Practice hand sewing skills while focusing on words that lift your mood.
Get fidgety. Some folks manage anxiety with fidget toys, small tactile objects that tamp down nervousness. Sew yourself a stress doll, marble tube, or marble maze. Then squeeze, pull, push, wiggle, twist, and twirl your way to relief.
Share kind words. You love to read about sewing, yes? Leave comments on sewing blogs (AHEM), Instagram posts, and YouTube vids. Socialize on Pattern Review, The Fold Line, and wherever else sewists hang out. Words of encouragement mean to the world to anyone who shares their creative pursuits online. Chase away the blues by being a good (virtual) friend.
Over to you, my sweet sewing friends: How do you use sewing when you’re feeling blue? What do you make of the “sewing is cheaper than therapy” adage? Please (respectfully!) sound off on mental illness and sewing or other creative pursuits in the comments.
P.S. NAMI’s website is a treasure. Here’s a quick-and-dirty list of mental illness symptoms in case you’re wondering in general what it’s like to have a mental illness.
P.P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy this one, too: Sew with the Flow: Sewing for Your Period. In my experience, there’s some overlap between menstrual symptoms and mental health symptoms.
P.P.P.S. Speaking from experience, sewing IS cheaper than therapy.
Main photo by Michael Shannon on Unsplash
Love Your Body photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
Tend Your Soul photo by JD Mason on Unsplash
Get Out of Your Head photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash
I think you are my soul sister!! Your thoughts are my thoughts. Thank you for sharing!
Hi, Lisa! Thanks for reading! I’m always happy to find a soul sister.😘 Take care.
What a wonderful post–thank you so much for sharing something so personal and making yourself vulnerable. I think a lot of people, whether they live with mental illness or not, simply don’t realize how common they are. The enduring stigma around mental illness keeps a lot of people from opening up about their experience, myself included, so thank you for being visible and honest: it’s nice to feel less alone.
II also really appreciate your thoughtful suggestions geared to sewers and will be bookmarking this for future reference! Your last point about getting social (sewcial?) rings so true: I tend to be a more active commenter during dark periods for reasons I can’t fully explain. Maybe it’s partly to seem more “normal” and partly because on some level it helps me focus on something other than the bad.
Hi, Abbey! Thanks for reading. I’m sorry you live with this dark cloud, too. It’s terrible, and I agree that not enough people understand how common it is and how hard it is to “just snap out of it.” Would if I could. The stigma around mental illness is what kept me from even admitting to myself that I was unwell. I thought it was laziness and a personality flaw. So completely, wholly untrue.
I’m glad you’ve turned to the community during dark times. In my experience, most people want to help and give comfort. It makes them feel good, and it lets you know that you’re not alone. Plus, like I mentioned in the post, commenting gets you out of your head.
Be well, and please take care of yourself.
Great ideas, Erin. I have lived with depression all my life, and over the course of seeking treatment for it, I have found some things that help me and some that don’t. I have never found a pill that helps much. It may shift my perception, but it really doesn’t get rid of the depression. And the side effects are horrible for me. I have found that regular and vigorous exercise help me a lot. I sometimes have to force myself to go to the gym, but I always feel better mentally after a good workout. I try to eat well and avoid eating a kazillion carbs when I feel moody. Carbs can become a true obsession for me as I get a little lift from eating them, but it’s a cyclical thing that is bad for me in the end, mentally and physically. So no binges allowed. I try to meditate and practice gratitude. There are always people who are living with greater burdens than mine. During the winter, I use a light box as I find sunlight improves my mood. And lastly, I always try to remember in the depths on any depressive episode that this too shall pass away. Things continually change, and so does my level of depression.
My mother had lifelong depression, and she committed suicide when I was young. Her death was such a loss for so many people, and I wish she had found comfort in some way without feeling this was her only option. I am not ashamed of my mental health/illness, and I try to encourage others to seek help if they have depressive symptoms. There is no shame in facing this challenge and learning to manage it as well as you can. You were brave to write this post, and I appreciate your courage. Take care, be well, be fearless, and hold tight to those you love.
Hi, Becky. Thanks for reading. I’m so glad you’ve found some winning strategies to manage your depression, and I’m so, so sorry your mom never got there. Mental illness runs in my family, too, and I feel like it’s defined too much for the worse. I’m trying to break that cycle.
I also have to work out hard to keep things even, and I use a happy light, too. I also take vitamins D when it starts getting dark and cold, which is most of the year in Wisconsin, HA. I also use aromatherapy for a lift. Sometimes, I work up the nerve to say to my husband, “I feel sad today,” and when he gives me a hug, I don’t feel alone. I have to fight the “martyr” narrative and ask for help, and that’s quite hard for me. But it’s good for me, which means it’s good for the people who care about me. So I do it.
Please keep working on your mental wellness, and I’ll do the same. Be well! 💗
continued blessings Erin!!!
Thanks, Nancie! 💗
Thank you so much for this post (and others!) Erin. Having some anxiety myself, I keep your blog open in my browser and go back to the tips when I’m feeling out of myself.
Oh, honey, I’m glad you’re finding my post helpful! Please take care! ♥️ And please experiment with some other management techniques. It’s nice to have a few ready for when you’re in a funk.
Wonderful, WONDERFUL post! My oldest daughter has a chronic illness. I have battled depression since her initial diagnosis 6 years ago. I’m still trying to overcome some perfection-istic tendencies, but your tips and suggestions are awesome! Thanks so much!
You are welcome, Kerie! 💖
I find I have to remind myself to get out of my “cave” and socialize wit others. I love to sew and can easily stay in my big and well stocked sewing space for days if I let myself. I have learned this is not good to forego human interaction for the creative high or to not get out and get exercise and sunshine. I schedule myself to include these things. It makes me sew better and definitely feel better.
Bunny, I’m glad you know what to do to get yourself out of a funk. That’s SO important. Thanks for reading!