By: Jennifer Chu
Hobbies are important when it comes to self care. I often come across clients who struggle to know what their hobbies are.
This could be an issue due to our culture nowadays. Our society is so focused on achievements and pays little attention to how to have fun. Parents with younger kids also seem to commonly struggle with hobbies. The unrelenting nature of child rearing can really wear us out. This makes us gradually lose touch with the hobbies that we once had. Some of my clients question why it is important to develop hobbies. Others believe that hobbies are a waste of time as they don’t seem to directly contribute to any practical life goals.
Having that sense of fun from engaging in hobbies is actually an antidote for stress. This is particularly true when we face chronic stress, or long term problems that require time to resolve. When we continuously have thoughts that are focused on resolving the problems, we continuously trigger the sympathetic nervous system. This system creates feelings of tension and anxiety, and having this activated long term could lead to a conditioned stress response. This is why sometimes we still feel tense and cannot relax when the problem is actually resolved or when we are finally on our holiday.
Research showed that during the 11-week lockdown in UK in 2020, people who had outdoor hobbies such as gardening also had better mental health and wellbeing. Conversely, people who constantly followed news about COVID-19 had a deterioration in their health and wellbeing. Hobbies provide us with a mental break from stress. Constantly focusing on the sources of stress only wear us down. This leaves us worse off during times when we need the mental capacity to face stress. Furthermore, numerous research has shown that there are links between engaging in hobbies and improved sense of wellbeing, better quality of life, better physical health, and even better self-confidence.
Churchill’s take on hobbies
Here is what Winston Churchill, who was notorious for his abundant interest in a huge range of hobbies, said about hobbies.
“ (O)ne cannot mend the frayed elbows of a coat by rubbing the sleeves or the shoulders; but the tired parts of the mind can be rested and strengthened, not merely by rest, but by using other parts.”
“it is only when new cells are called into activity, the new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.”
So, accordingly to Churchill, a tired mind doesn’t refresh by resting, like a muscle. The mind is refreshed by doing something that uses different parts of your brain. Churchill spent a lot of time reading and writing for work. He found it particularly de-stressing engaging in hobbies that involved both his eyes and hands, such as oil painting and bricklaying. Yes, bricklaying. Food for thought when we consider developing hobbies.
How to develop hobbies
If you have not been engaging in hobbies and are lost about what you can do for fun, the first thing to do is to look back. Think of a time in your life when you had hobbies and pick up those again. If you were interested in these hobbies, then chances are some elements of these activities should still elicit sense of enjoyment in you.
Try new things
If you never had hobbies, or your hobby repertoire is very limited, then try new things. Stay open-minded as you try them. Ask around what your friends do for hobbies. Do some research online on helpful hobbies. Look within your local community and see what hobby groups are happening. Hiking, painting, bonsai planting, photography, journaling, star gazing. Get a taster of what it is like, and explore them more if they spark your interest. The world is your oyster.
Identify ineffective use of time
Find it hard to slot in more activities into your already packed schedule? It may be helpful being more aware of how you usually use your time. Are there times that are used ineffectively? Times when you end up swiping through social media on your phone for too long? Or those hours you watch things on tv that you cannot even remember the next day? If these activities don’t elicit feelings of restoration and refreshment, then they are only further crowding out your busy life.
Do not be a perfectionist with your hobbies
Not every hobby needs to take up hours of your day. Some, like a hiking trip, would be suitable for days when you have the luxury to do them. However, most days we are looking for hobbies that can be done in bite-sized chunks. Taking photos around your home is something creative you can do when you only have 10 minutes. Make yourself a fragrant cup of herbal tea when you only have 3 minutes to spare. Also a good idea are hobbies like knitting, which can be done a little bit at a time and picked up again later.
Changing the mentality
A client told me that he has turned boring chores into a good quality time with his kids. He used to find school drop-offs and pickups particularly time consuming and mundane. However, reframing the task into “I’ve always wanted to spend more time with my family and now is the time” made a world of difference for him. With this, I can imagine him becoming more intentional in his conversations with his kids in the car. Perhaps even some singalong-in-the-car sessions taking place. If you spend a lot of time waiting for your kids to finish their after-school activities, consider volunteering in them. Turning this into something that could bring you sense of joy and achievement. Developing hobbies can simply be turning something you are already doing into a more intentional activity. If you find yourself spending a lot of time cooking, is it possible to develop that into a hobby? Try cooking things that make you excited, and if you also get some beautiful cookware, you can turn cooking into a more enjoyable time!