Some days it feels like the world is on fire. Regardless of whether that fire has come to your doorstep in the form of Covid-19 infection, loss of a loved one, insufficient income, food insecurity or fear of all of the above, we could all use a balm to soothe our frazzled nerves. As the global pandemic stretches into 2021, mental illness is taking grip on even the most calm souls and laying waste to the rest of us. I remember at the beginning of it all, lying in bed at night, barely able to catch my breath as the racing thoughts kept coming. My 60-something mother working on the front lines. My elderly grandfather vulnerable in a nursing home. Friends and neighbors tucked away, their friendly faces and casual conversation missing from my daily routine. The news headlines of the sick and dying, and a nation ripped apart in partisanship. Deep breathing is great, but I needed something more to get me through the quarantine.
Little did I know, the sensations of yarn and wooden knitting needles working between my fingertips would be the elixir to numb my ever-present anxiety. A quiet 30-minutes–of if I was lucky, an entire hour and half while the family watches a movie–was exactly what I needed to check out of the world and get into that flow state that is so sacred to artists and athletes alike. Writing gives me that same meditative high, but I found it hard to focus on something as trivial as my YA romance novel during these turbulent times. But somehow, knitting was just the thing to fill the void.
Hobbies can truly be lifesavers right now, coming to the rescue in the form of some much-needed self care. Taking time out to learn something new or tap into your creativity can do wonders for your mental health, even if the effects are temporary.
Here are my top 5 hobbies to help you cope with pandemic stress and anxiety. Let me know in the comments what else you do to decompress… and keep it PG. 🙂
A hat for the hubby, scarves for me and mittens for the kids… I’ve been busy knitting enough to satisfy my inner little old lady. There are so many beginner tutorials on YouTube and free patterns on Pinterest to keep me wandering the yarn aisles at the craft store for hours (wearing my mask, of course).
The repetitive and rhythmic motions of knits and purls could be the key to relaxation. The late Dr. Barry Jacobs of Princetown University found that animals who perform repetitive motions trigger a release of serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with calmness and well-being. More on that here (Should You Knit?, by Temma Ehrenfeld, Psychology Today, 11/1/2013). With calmness, comes deeper breathing and mindfulness. Speaking from experience, knitting really puts you in the present moment and you get a little something special at the end of all that. Whether it’s any good or not doesn’t really matter… what matters is that you made it yourself!
If you have littles at home, you may even be able to get them on board with this… for a few minutes, anyway. I love the physical and spiritual practice of yoga. The word yoga has Sanskrit origins and means to yoke, or to join, or to unite. Yoga is literally the union of mind, body and spirt and has a myriad of health benefits. I have been practicing yoga since 2005 and can attest to its ability to calm and fortify my mental state and physical being. It did kept me limber and strong during my pregnancies, except my last one when I was too nauseous and exhausted to do much other than the basic daily tasks. Give it a try and add a little mindfulness meditation at the end with some deep belly breathing. Yoga By Adrienne on YouTube is one of my favorites and a great place to start.
Fresh air and movement does wonders for the body and spirit. Whether it’s a full-fledged hike complete with a map, compass, boots and a backpack, or just a stroll through a wooded park, time in nature is always time well spent. Getting outdoors for a change of scenery during these crazy quarantine times can take the edge off and get the blood pumping to release some much-need endorphins. Bonus if you spot a cute little bunny, baby deer or curious chipmunk for a little cuteness fix. Start with easy terrain and work yourself to more challenging hikes. The AllTrails app is great for finding hikes near you.
In case you didn’t get the memo, coloring books aren’t for preschoolers anymore. Pour yourself an adult beverage, unpack a box of colored pencils and go to town. Mandalas, botanical illustrations, geometric prints and flowers with swaths of swear words are at your fingertips. The creative act of drawing, painting or coloring can take you out of your everyday routine and into the present moment. According to good old Psychology Today, adult coloring books have been shown to influence more than anxiety. Researchers at the University of Otago randomly assigned participants to a coloring a logic-puzzle group and found that after a week of daily practice displayed significantly lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms (Are Adult Coloring Books Actually Helpful?, by Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC, Psychology Today, 3/27/2018).
5. Writing… duh
Even with all these hobbies to soothe my soul, nothing is as meditative and satisfying to me as writing. Journaling is excellent for clearing your head from all the mental clutter that weighs us down. A quick paragraph or two at bedtime can make for a better night’s sleep. Keeping a dream journal in the morning hours can help unearth our subconscious wounds and desires, buried deep beneath the mundane steam of consciousness which directs our daily lives. Bullet journals and guided journals are all the rage. But, if it’s healing you seek, I recommend creative writing. Poetry, short stories or a novel are a way to capture the past with the power to rewrite it, escape to another world, and explore the beauty and ugliness of life in its many forms. Blogging about whatever tickles your fancy is a great outlet, too.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these hobbies I dabble in to de-stress and recenter myself. For more, check out this recent article I found helpful, “13 Hobbies that Help People Cope with Their Mental Health” by Julia Metraux from the Mighty.
And, as my favorite English professor used to say, “Keep on keeping on.”
Love & light,