Feeling bleh after more than a year of the pandemic? Maybe you need a hobby to help you improve your mental self-care quotient!
Summertime brings with it vacation and leisure time, the perfect time to learn a new hobby or spend time doing something you love. This month is all about how hobbies can help your self-care quotient. If you’re not convinced you need self-care, take the free assessment at the bottom of the page.
Border Breeds the Blues
“Guess what I did today?” I asked Pedro.
“You hopped around the house?” he laughed.
For three weeks I’d done little more than hop or crawl as I recovered from ankle surgery. “Funny. No, I painted a bird since I couldn’t go birding.”
“Really?” he asked, his voice sounded incredulous over the phone. “I didn’t know you painted.”
“I didn’t. But now I do.” I told him.
“Where did you learn?”
“I took a class online.”
We said our goodbyes and I sat back with a sigh of satisfaction as I looked at my painting of a Rufous-Capped Warbler. I’d taken the photo I used for a model a year ago. At the start of the pandemic, I spent a week in southern Arizona social distancing and soaking in my vitamin D.
The photo brought back fond memories of my experience locating the little beauty. I’d tried on three previous trips to the area to see this rare species but had no luck. This time, I had nowhere to go and plenty of time, so I decided to sit by a stream in the location other people had seen it.
After about an hour, I gave up hope. I ambled back down the trail, stopping to photograph flowers and butterflies. The trill of a bird in some nearby bushes startled me, and I decided to look. Much to my amazement, the rare bird I wanted to see sat on a branch not ten feet away, singing his little heart out.
The little warbler flew from perch to perch, making a circle around the area and marking his territory with beautiful song each time he landed. After twenty minutes and dozens of photos, he flew upstream.
Remembering the pure joy of his song always brought a smile to my face.
Improve Your Mental Self-Care Quotient
After sitting in the recliner for three days with my leg up I had started to feel blue. Instead of watching Perry Mason on repeat and bemoaning my inability to exercise or do much of anything, I decided to do something different. I purchased a course on Domestika for twenty bucks and learned how to watercolor paint birds.
I didn’t have any supplies yet, but I watched each video carefully and took notes. The anticipation of trying something new gave me purpose. When I went back to work eight days after surgery, the anticipation helped me cope with the post-surgery pain.
By the time my supplies arrived from Amazon, I had chosen a photo to start with. I re-watched some of the lessons and attempted my first bird. My painting even resembled the bird in my photo. Better yet, the whole experience had helped me cope with a difficult situation.
I felt grateful I had learned from researching a post last year how to improve my mental self-care quotient by doing a hobby. Even if I’d never done the hobby before and it had to substitute for my favorite hobby (birding).
In Europe, doctors and psychiatrists have started prescribing social hobbies to patients who struggle with depression. A social hobby involves a leisure-time activity done in a group setting. Team sports, group singing (choir), group painting classes, cooking classes, etc. fall into the social hobby category.
Due to the pandemic and my inability to move very far, I had to choose a less social hobby. But my mood and self-worth improved even without the social factor.
Hacks to Incorporate a Hobby into Your Life
If you’re like me, you probably struggle to justify spending time on a hobby. Especially if you have young children or act as a family caregiver. But participating in hobbies plays an important role in our self-care quotient. We need time to explore our creative side outside of work or regular responsibilities.
When we spend time away doing something we love to do, we come back refreshed. We need that refreshment, some call it a brain flush, to work productively. These hacks will help you improve your mental self-care quotient by figuring out how to fit a hobby into your busy life.
1. Identify Your Why
Why do you think you need a mental health boost? Has the pandemic or politics weighed you down? Do you find yourself lethargic and unable to do much? Does your day need more consistency?
2. Start with Something Easy
Hobbies or leisure-time activities fall into three different categories (more on that later). Start by doing a project-based activity with a friend or family member. You could attend a painting or pottery class together, go for a walk together, or sign up to volunteer at a soup kitchen or sports event.
Project-based activities help jump-start our motivation to do something—having a friend or family member along helps keep you accountable. If you don’t have any of those opportunities, decide on a budget and spend some money on an online class. I did this when I decided to learn how to watercolor paint. When I pay money for something, I carry through because I don’t like to waste money.
3. Explore Hobbies Online
If you feel clueless about what hobbies might spark your interest, do a quick web search. Who knew pickling vegetables could turn into a hobby? Or cheesemaking.
Don’t knock something until you’ve tried it.
4. Use the After-Action Review Process to Evaluate Your Experience
After you try a new hobby or activity, take time to evaluate it and decide whether it’s something you’d do again. When we moved from Montana to Arizona, we spent the night in Salt Lake City and decided to try parasailing. We both loved the experience—it felt wonderful to soar above the earth and let the stress of moving melt away.
Since our new home doesn’t have any mountains for 90 miles, we decided not to invest in the hobby. But if we ever move closer to good parasailing areas, I know what I’ll learn how to do!
5. Consider the Cost
Some hobbies, such as waterskiing, snowboarding, or radio-controlled airplanes can cost a lot of money. Before you commit to purchasing the supplies or equipment needed for a hobby, make sure you try it out a time or two.
I’ve gone sea kayaking multiple times over the years and loved it every time. When the opportunity to buy a nice used sea kayak came up, I jumped at the chance. I know Arizona and the ocean don’t sit next to each other on the map. But Arizona has plenty of lakes. I can’t wait to explore them from a kayak. And in the summer, I can travel to the ocean.
6. Remember the Benefits
Your hobbies, whether you indulge in mountain climbing or dumpster diving, improve your mental self-care quotient. Participating in leisure activities will improve your mental outlook. The investment you make in yourself will pay you back in less stress, improved mood, and something interesting to talk about.
7. It’s a Hobby, not a Career
Above all, remember you don’t need to do your hobbies perfectly to reap the benefits. Participating counts more than perfection. You’ll want to take time to do things that make your heart sing or tingle with excitement. No one’s giving you a grade, and no one expects you to make money from your hobby.
Your mental self-care quotient will benefit from the release you find in doing things you enjoy. Even if they don’t provide a paycheck.
8. Schedule Hobby Time
To reap the benefits of having a hobby (or two or three or four), you’ll need to schedule time to enjoy it (or them). When you have little kids, you’ll need to get creative. You and your spouse could swap childcare during scheduled hobby times. Or, if you and your spouse enjoy the same hobby, swap childcare with another couple.
Don’t put off doing things you enjoy with the excuse, “I don’t have time.” We all have the same number of hours in the day. Healthy self-care involves scheduling our responsibilities and our leisure time so we can have a balanced life.Find out how hobbies can improve your mental health and relieve stress. #hobby #mentalhealth Click To Tweet
More than One Kind of Hobby?
Until I started researching for this article, I had no idea anyone had classified hobbies into three categories. According to Robert Stebbins, hobbies come in three flavors: casual, project-based, and serious leisure.
Casual leisure includes passive entertainment such as watching television, reading a book, or chatting with friends. Project-based leisure includes one-off projects such as a volunteer day in your community, a DIY project, or tinkering around to fix something. Serious leisure, or passion-sparking hobbies, have six earmarks:
- need to persevere at the activity (I feel compelled to learn all you can about painting birds)
- availability of a leisure career (if I got good, I could make money selling my paintings)
- need to put in effort to gain skill and knowledge (I won’t get better at painting if I don’t practice)
- realization of various special benefits (I understand I’ll have a source of gifts for family members)
- unique ethos and social world (I could find online groups for people who paint birds or join the art scene in some way)
- an attractive personal and social identity (I enjoy it when people compliment my efforts).
No matter what kind of leisure time activity you participate in, Elizabeth Scott, MS, assures us, “Engaging in hobbies can provide a break with a purpose, which can help people feel that they’re not just sitting around but are using their downtime for something productive.”
Researchers have discovered stress can cause certain types of depression. Therefore, improving our mental self-care quotient will not only improve our mood but can ward off depression.
Whether you choose to learn to paint or start collecting spoons, your mental health will benefit from the time you invest in yourself.
I’d love to hear what kinds of hobbies you enjoy, so make sure to leave a comment! What is the strangest hobby you’ve ever tried? Which hobby do you classify as a serious leisure hobby?
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