Monday, June 22, 2009

Healing Hobbies...

Happy summer! With our longer days and, if we're lucky, a stretch of vacation time finally in sight, our hearts and minds can turn to activities that ground us in joy and refreshment - our favourite hobbies.

Some people think that hobbies are a waste of time or a way of avoiding the responsibilities of life. For hobbyists, their favourite passtimes are anything but. For us, hobbies are emotional releases, creative outlets, sources of life long learning, ways of building community, ways of contributing to community and means of keeping minds and hands active. They are also a source of Compassion Fatigue recovery and a route to achieving overall wellness.

Most hobbies provide an ideal way to relax and to manage stress. Twenty minutes unwinding with knitting needles, your guitar, or an ax and a pile of wood can make an excellent transition from work to home. An hour's yoga, painting or reading (depending on the content!) can stimulate a relaxation response that will help you to sleep. Focusing on the intricacies of sculpting, cooking a gourmet meal or building a doll house with your daughter can distract you completely from worries over things you cannot change. Planning a quilt, poring over seed catalogues or choosing colourful yarns for a new project bring a sense of peace and hope.

For those of us whose work is always in process, baking a loaf of bread, finishing a wood carving or hearing a motor run smoothly after hours of tinkering provides an end result, a finished product, to balance the ongoing nature of our work.

This weekend, I discovered a great blog for hobbyists called, Craft to Heal, by Nancy Monson, an author, editor and avid quilter and crafter. In her November 22, 2008 post, she writes about how to reap the benefits of hobbies:

"To tap into the healing power of hobbies, follow these guidelines:

Match your hobby to your personality. If you're a detail-oriented person, you might like hobbies that require precision, such as quilting or decorative painting. If you're more spontaneous and like to make a mess, activities that make you do a lot of measuring will cause frustration rather than relaxation. You might prefer ceramics, gardening or photography.

Try rhythmic and repetitive activities such as knitting or sewing. The act of doing a task over and over again breaks the train of everyday thought and relieves stress by evoking the relaxation response, a feeling of bodily and mental calm that's been scientifically proven to enhance health and reduce the risk of heart disease, anxiety and depression.

Make time for your hobby every week, and ideally every day. Experts advise meditating for at least 20 minutes a day, so try to do the same with your hobby to get continuing benefits.

Create a space just for your hobby. Set up a dedicated hobby area in your home, so you can play whenever you have a few moments to spare. If you don't have a whole room or office to putter in, put your supplies in a basket or the car for easy access.

Take a class or join a club to meet other people. Human beings are social animals and research shows that socializing with others helps release stress. Plus: Life-long learning and having a strong social network are two keys to healthy, happy aging.

Enjoy the process. Many people rush to finish a project, but the fun and the healing benefits are in the process. That's when you push worry, anger, anxiety and everyday worries out of the way.

Don't be a perfectionist. Give yourself permission to enjoy your hobby without expecting you projects to be masterpieces. If you make your hobby another chore that you have to accomplish perfectly, you'll lose the therapeutic benefits and the fun.

Don't compare yourself to others. If you're a beginner, let yourself be a beginner. Persevere with your hobby because you love it, and whether you ever become a master at it or not, it will bring you joy. You don't even have to finish your projects if you don't want to. The point isn't to make a ton of stuff. The point is to find what makes you happy, and what helps to relieve your stress.

Be bold! Pursue your hobby for yourself and yourself alone, and to express yourself. Don't worry what other people think of your projects. As Mary Tyler Moore was once quoted as saying, "What other people think of me is none of my business." "

To these wonderful suggestions I would add:

Give yourself permission to change. If you've never had a hobby, allow yourself to try several before settling on something you like. And, if you tire of that, try something else. Having a hobby is not about making a lifelong commitment, rather, about finding what works for you for now.

This week, why not choose a project and take the first steps toward getting started?

1 comment:

Nancy Monson said...

Thanks, Jan, for mentioning my blog at I believe from personal experience that crafts and hobbies can truly be therapeutic--and have a great role to play for caregivers, who need to take time for themselves and reduce stress.

Nancy Monson