Saturday, April 5, 2014

Improving Mental Health

Two posts that appeared on Facebook dealt with improving one’s mental health. Since I love cashews and I used to knit, I’d consider using both of these to improve my mental well-being. But first I’d need to research the reports touting them, to evaluate the science.

The first article, from, claims that cashews are a natural antidepressant. This is good news for proponents of the holistic approach (and my life is full of them). Dave Sommers is cited for this quote: “Two handfuls of cashews is [sic] the therapeutic equivalent of a prescription dose of Prozac.” He maintains that the L-tryptophan in cashews is converted to niacin and serotonin to reduce anxiety.

Best I can tell, this is true, so Eli Lilly must have staff looking to discredit it. I can picture some of the headlines: “Cashews breed rare worm that burrows into your intestines.” Or: “Fatty oils in cashews cause blockage of arteries; lead to increased risk of stroke.” Maybe Lilly doesn’t care, since generic Prozac (fluoxetine) has now been approved by the FDA. Let those suppliers panic over cashew encroachment.

In any case, we now have this terrific alternative to prescription drugs to provide positive mind-altering benefits. And we don’t have to smoke it to get them. Not only do I plan to eat more cashews (I had cut down on them because of my diet), I also plan to market my own brand. I’ll call it Mellow Yellow.

The second article puts forth the notion that “knitting is healthy for your brain”. The site tells us several studies support this assertion, and that not just knitting, but any crafting provides these benefits. The specifics are so, well… specific, that I’m compelled to quote the full claim. Knitting serves as a natural anti-depressant, helps ease anxiety and stress, can protect your brain from aging and has the [same] effects as meditation.”

This news was so energizing that it sent me straight to my basement storage room looking for my knitting needles that were packed away when we staged the house for sale. No luck with that, but they’ll show up eventually. cites a CNN series “Inside Your Brain” that credits knitting with treating PTSD, saying it “dampens internal chaos.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lamented: “I sure wish I had a way to dampen this internal chaos today.” Claremont University Professor of Psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi attributes this to something he refers to as “flow,” which he calls “the secret to happiness.” CNN says he has decades of research to support this.

The Claremont website describes the avuncular MC (as I prefer to call him) as “the founder and co-director of the Quality of Life Research Center. The QLRC is a non-profit research institute that studies ‘positive psychology’; that is, human strengths such as optimism, creativity, intrinsic motivation…” Plus he’s a member of the National Academy of Leisure Studies. Who knew there even was such an academy? I’m now sufficiently impressed.

In a 2004 TED talk, MC said your existence outside a creative activity, such as knitting, becomes “temporarily suspended” and your sense of your body disappears. I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of days when I wish my sense of my body would disappear. I’ll knit one of those Snuggler body blankets if that will make it happen. Note to self: buy knitting needles if they don’t show up soon. also cites a study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy that bolsters the CNN story and MC’s findings. The study sounds credible, especially since the survey had over 3,500 respondents. Except that it was conducted online through an Internet knitting site. For all we know, 3,000 of those “knitters” were using their prison library to participate. Or 100 bored widows took the survey 35 times each.

Respondents said they knit for relaxation and stress relief; they also praised knitting in a group. (The prison library doesn’t sound that far fetched now, does it?) The study thus concluded that: Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to wellbeing and quality of life.” It seems to me that if you’re in for life, it doesn’t take much to improve its quality. Ditto for bored widows.

So the Brits leave me skeptical, but Professor MC seems credible. They don’t let just anybody give a TED talk, you know. I have a vision of myself, nestled in the corner of our sunroom, humming Donovan tunes and knitting argyle socks by the basketful. I’m shoving fistfuls of cashews into my pie hole and I’m as happy as that proverbial clam. I’ll call you when your socks are ready. In the meantime, be on the lookout for my Mellow Yellow. No prescription needed.

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