Today I wanted to talk about hobbies because, as innocuous as they seem, they can be really important to our mental health. When I worked in Community Mental Health, we were required to do training for de-escalation and the focus was on preventing clients from ever getting so upset that there was an incident where someone felt unsafe. They taught a three-point plan for keeping people “in the green” (basically, happy, healthy, and in control of their emotions): caring community, high-quality relaxation, and productivity.

We know from numerous studies that feeling productive is good for mental health but the art is in fine-tuning how we go about being productive. For some folks I worked with, putting together jigsaw puzzles was their productivity. It doesn’t have to be working a full-time job with high income and high status to help us feel challenged, competent, and active.

Benefits

Hobbies are a great way to achieve that feeling of working towards a goal without having to deal with the pressure that comes from a formal job.  So let’s break it down, here are some super clear benefits from hobbies:

  • It’s a great way to build new networks and meet new people (a.k.a. potential friends).
  • Hobbies give us more moments of “flow” (those moments where we’re living in the moment entirely and find that happy medium between competence and challenge).
  • Hobbies give us better work-life balance and help prevent burn-out.

Where do you get started?

So what’s holding you back from starting a hobby or giving more time to your existing hobbies?

I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I WANT TO DO

Many people have a hard time deciding what to try as a hobby for a few reasons. Sometimes they’ve been too busy (having young children, working and being in college, or caring for elderly parents are a few reasons) or maybe they’ve been so depressed nothing sounds fun anymore. Let’s brainstorm some ideas! It doesn’t have to sound like the best idea in the whole wide world, you just have to be willing to give it an honest try with an open mind.

Here are some things you can try:

  • Anything outdoors! kayaking (you can rent kayaks at Kensington MetroPark and other parks around Michigan and in other states), hiking, disc golf, regular golf, geocaching, gardening (lots of different kinds- flower beds, vegetables, carnivorous plants, birding, astronomy, camping, fishing, hunting, snowshoe, skiing, ice skating, rollerblading (or roller derby!), hatching caterpillars into butterflies, beekeeping, bike riding, four wheeling (or dirt-biking), beachcombing (for things like shells and seaglass), paintball, archery, snorkeling or diving. I’m sure there are many I’m missing but the idea is to think of as many as you can.
  • Activities with animals. Fishkeeping, breeding (fish or other animals though I’m partial to adopting, myself), training animals, even researching animals!
  • Playing or watching sports. playing pick up games or joining a local team for racquetball, pickleball, tennis, basketball, ice hockey, baseball, dance of any kind including belly dance, classical/ballroom, and (there are also plenty of things related to dance that don’t easily come to mind like cirque and aerial sports), hula hooping, weightlifting, running,
  • Creating something. Origami, woodworking, sewing (clothing, bags, , crocheting, knitting, building models (including legos), scrapbooking, creating music digitally, refinishing furniture and/or upholstery, fermenting your own beer/wine, canning jams and other goodies, baking and decorating, building a blog or website (you may have to learn coding which is a hobby all on its own), cosplaying (like LARP- live action role-play or SCA where you dress up as either a person from a specific time period or a fictional character) which often involves creating your own costumes, creating make-up looks, researching your genealogy, or making candles or jewelry.

Lots of options

The idea here is just to give you plenty of choices. Obviously some of these are much more expensive than others and pretty much any hobby will take up as much as you give it. Commit to giving something a try and don’t let your budget hold you back! There are ways to get creative with many of these so that they’re not super expensive. If you want to learn more about any hobby, check out your library for a “______for dummies” book or google “how to get started ___________”.

It’s too expensive

There are plenty of hobbies that don’t cost a lot. Bird watching at a park doesn’t have to be expensive and lots of times you can find second-hand supplies (if you’re sewing, they often have sewing machines and fabric at Salvation Army, for example). Origami making just costs paper. Learning a new code language or foreign language is often free online (try Duolingo or Khan Academy). Some hobbies can even turn a profit!

I don’t have time

Alright, we need to have a chat. Your time is valuable and life is busy. I hear you. But you have to take time for yourself. It’s a necessity to make life enjoyable. We’ve gotta figure out how to carve out an hour or two for yourself each week. Can you ask someone to watch the kids? Can you wake up a little earlier? Tell a friend “No Thanks”? I know that it’s hard to balance everything life throws at you. Meeting with a therapist can help you develop boundaries that take care of you so you can keep taking care of what you need to instead of feeling like you want to run away because you’re overwhelmed.

What if I don’t know anyone?

People love to talk about their hobbies. Most of us are eager to bring new people into the fold. And if someone is standoff-ish, that’s way more about them than it is about you, trust me. I take dance classes and anytime someone new shows up they’re nervous but those of us who have been there awhile are eager for new people to cheer on and encourage. We’re quick to tell them what to expect and reassure them that they’re going to do great. You will know someone soon. Anxiety can make it so hard to go to someplace new and do something new but conquering that experience can be unbelievably rewarding. You can ask someone you know to go with you (that’s how I got up the nerve to take my first dance class haha) or work with a therapist to build up a plan for how to breathe through it and get to your first meeting. Online forums can also be a great place to build community.

Take the time explore a hobby and find what works the best for you.

Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.