How hobbies can improve your mental health when living with serious illness or injury

How hobbies can improve your mental health when living with serious illness or injury

Living with the impact of a temporary serious illness, chronic illness, or injury can be draining in many ways and adversely impact your mental health. The routine of illness/injury can quickly take over. It feels like the illness or injury dictates your life and is in control. It feels like parts of you are slipping away and you don’t recognise yourself anymore.

This is understandable. When you are living with the impact of a serious illness/injury, it’s not like you know automatically what to do. You have to figure out new ways of taking care of yourself and what works for you. That can be time consuming. Also, life continues to happen around you and you have to deal with that. It can feel like there isn’t time left to focus on fun things like hobbies and personal interests. Life is just too busy or you’re too tired to focus on them.

But hobbies and fun activities can be the very thing that will improve your mental health and quality of life. This is super important when you are living with a potentially life-changing health issue. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Having been inspired by my own and a colleague’s experience, and others writing about their experience, I share the 10 ways hobbies and personal interests can help you improve your mental health, and restore some normality to your life, your quality of life, and your sense of self.

hobbies can improve mental health

 

How hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life

 

Here are 10 ways in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life. Hobbies can:

1. Provide an escape from symptoms

In the early days of living with Transverse Myelitis, I had bad fatigue, neuropathic pain and major sensory disturbance (pins and needles everywhere in my body). I couldn’t only sit on the sofa and watch daytime telly, which I found boring.

So I opened my laptop and despite my hands being badly affected, I started genealogical research. I was quickly absorbed and distracted from the pain and fatigue for a time. Even though I made loads of typing mistakes because I had constant pins and needles in my hands and so could not feel things properly (still do just not as bad), I was so absorbed in my work I didn’t mind. My focus was on the hobby, less so on my hands.

I once heard a story of a person with Parkinson’s whose tremors stops when she picks up a camera to take pictures. There is a respite from the Parkinson’s symptoms for a time.

A colleague with Parkinson’s told me about how when she rides her bike, she is free of symptoms. She forgets she has Parkinson’s and values this sense of freedom. The cycling is also great exercise.

2. Remind you of abilities you still have

Being able to engage in research reminded me my brain was fine even though my body wasn’t. I could still do research and use my brain in a way which I valued.

3. Process of learning and getting better provides a sense of mastery

With many hobbies you learn even if you have been indulging in the hobby for many years. I’ve been doing genealogical research for 9 years now and I am often learning something new about my family or how to conduct the research so I achieve what I am aiming to. That process of improving is very satisfying.

4. Provide achievement

Hobbies enable you to achieve something of value to you whether that is drawing or painting a picture; completing a cross-stitch, book or bike ride; gardening; writing a poem or story; creating music; going for a walk; cooking a meal; winning a game; finding that one rare stamp to add to a collection, etc.

hobbies improve mental health

Hobbies can improve your mental health and quality of life.

 

5. Provide an opportunity to socialise with people

Some hobbies naturally lend themselves to being with other people and may even need others so you can engage in the hobby. Like a team sport. Being with others doing an activity you all have an interest in fosters a sense of belonging. This is hugely important as sometimes when living with a serious illness, you can feel very isolated.

I adore kayaking because it gets me out in nature, it gets me moving, it’s a mindfulness practice for me, it’s hugely relaxing, and most of the time I kayak with other people. I find paddling very therapeutic for my body and mind. As a hobby it ticks boxes of what is important to me.

6. Provide a safe way to deal with unpleasant feelings associated with the changes in your life so they do not end up dominating your life

This is important to do. It enables you to get in touch with the experience of your illness/condition/injury so you integrate it into the story of your life without it being ignored, shut away or owning you in an unhealthy way. I wrote about how you can do this here. 

7. Provide enjoyment

I enjoy genealogical research. I love the process of discovery it provides. I enjoy sharing what I learn with my family.

8. Reduce stress and provide relaxation

When we do something we enjoy that is just for us, we often relax. The stress leaves our bodies as we focus on our hobby. So when you feel stressed, indulging in your hobby is a brilliant antidote to it as @HannahEliza1 finds with playing the piano.

9. Provide meaning

Regarding genealogical research, I feel like I am the keeper of the family stories and it’s my job to record them and pass the on so current generations can do that too. That gives meaning to me and my life. It also allows me to live my value of the importance of family.

10. Restore a sense of normality to your life

Hobbies are part and parcel of life. Most people have them. So they bring a sense of normality. Although your life may have changed substantially due to a serious illness, hobbies can still be a part of it. They may be hobbies from pre-illness/injury days or new hobbies chosen due to the changes you’ve experienced because of your illness or injury.

Hobbies can provide all of this. And do you know what all this does?

 

Hobbies feed your self-worth

 

Those 10 things hobbies do for you are good for your psychological wellbeing. They improve your quality of life. They feed your sense of self-worth.

Hobbies allow you to be you, to do something for yourself, to express all the richness that is within you, and to feed that richness so you can keep expressing it.

So claim back time for your hobbies and interests. Your mental health and self-worth are too important. They matter because you matter.

hobbies improve mental health chronic illness

The value of hobbies to your mental health when living with serious illness or injury.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Has a hobby helped you to deal with the impact of your illness or injury? Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result? Or are you trying to adapt a hobby so you can still indulge in it or searching for a new hobby to restore a sense of normality to your life? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I write this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

Why your mental health is important when living with chronic illness #ihavementalhealth

Why your mental health is important when living with chronic illness #ihavementalhealth

When adjusting to living with a serious or chronic illness, whether this experience is more recent for you or you’ve been living with it for some time and things have changed, you can experience a period of mental upheaval.

You may experience anxiety, scared of what your future will be like, worrying about every twinge and odd feeling in your body, feeling unbalanced emotionally, and are quickly moved to tears, anger or both. The rollercoaster of emotions is never-ending. You want to feel a sense of calm and balance. You want to feel normal again but are not sure if that’s achievable or how.

Firstly, it is possible to return to a sense of wellness and normality. I have helped clients successfully do this after they experienced a serious illness or onset of a chronic illness. Just a heads up that it often looks and feels differently from what it was like before.

Secondly, feeling the way you do because of the changes in your health is actually normal. These periods of adjustment are about transitioning from one way of doing and being to another. It’s about change. And when we experience change, we can experience all sorts of unfamiliar and unpleasant emotions, particularly when the change is not expected nor welcomed.

So you are not going crazy. You are experiencing another side to your mental health. Read on to learn why looking after your mental health is as important as your physical health when living with a serious or chronic illness. But first, let’s review that definition of mental health because it can sometimes get in the way of people seeking out support.

handling emotions when living with chronic illness

The roller coaster of illness

 

Debunking the myth of mental health

 

In our society, we have come to associate the words ‘mental health’ almost exclusively with issues such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, bi-polar, suicide, schizophrenia, other personality disorders, etc.

It is also often assumed that help is only for these type of issues. And if you don’t have them, you don’t need help, and should not need help. But if you access help, then you must have something wrong with you, like a ‘psychological problem’ and be ‘screwed up’.

That societal definition of mental health doesn’t do much for empowering people, who are experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression (maybe for the first time), to seek help and support.

The definition also discounts the whole human experience and all the good things we experience and feel. It has resulted in lack of recognition that people with mental health issues can and do experience good feelings, good times and periods of happiness.

Just as our physical health can experience good and bad periods, so does our mental health. At times our mental health is ill, other times it is in good shape.

‘Mental health’ is a neutral term like physical health. Just as we have physical health, we have mental health.

mental health #ihavementalhealth

Mental health is a neutral term.

 

The #ihavementalhealth campaign

 

Last week the #ihavementalhealthcampaign on Twitter reminded me of this and its importance to people like you and me who live with chronic illness or the ongoing after effects of a serious illness.

Dr. Ilan Ben-Zion (@drilanbz), a clinical psychologist in the UK started this campaign last week when he was sharing his NHS stories via the @NHS Twitter account. The campaign’s aim is to show how neutral the term ‘mental health’ is and that we all have it. In turn, this can reduce the stigma mental health has developed and normalise people seeking support when they feel they are struggling.

If more people feel able to seek support when they are struggling, then this can prevent issues growing into even bigger ones.

 

Your mental health is just as important as physical health

 

parity of esteem #ihavementalhealth

A balanced focus on mental and physical health is needed.
#ihavementalhealth #weallhavementalhealth

 

When living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious health issue, your mental health is just as important as your physical health. The reasons for this are several.

In my own and my clients’ experiences, stress can exacerbate symptoms. Learning ways to effectively manage the impact of stress becomes very important to reduce its impact on symptoms. I’ve had clients report feeling a reduction in symptoms due to addressing issues which caused them to feel stressed and learning to manage the stress differently.

Also, stress and anxiety can become more prevalent due to the uncertainty which often accompanies a change in our health.

Having support to adjust to any unwelcome and unwanted change with your health or any other part of your life can help you to work through the stress, anxiety, depression and emotional struggles more quickly and effectively. So you can return to that sense of calm and balance you’ve been seeking, and experience quality of life and normality once again. Timely support can also prevent issues escalating, allow people to appreciate and feel their self-worth, and to continue being a part of society.

Sometimes the physical health issue can cause changes in the brain which impact emotions, cognitive abilities and executive functioning. Side-effects of medications can also cause mental health issues. This is when it is important to have a suitably qualified healthcare professional involved who can formally assess the issue and recommend strategies and treatments.

These reasons show that mental health is ever-present, there is a complex relationship between our physical and mental health, and it’s super important and ok to look after it and seek support to enable us to do that.

To show your support for these ideas, get on social media, introduce yourself and use the hashtag #ihavementalhealth.

My name is Barbara and #ihavementalhealth

In fact, #weallhavementalhealth

 

What’s it like for you?

 

When you’ve been in a difficult period, what helped you to enhance your mental health? If you reached out and asked for help, what enabled you to do that? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I write these blogs in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a family member, friend or colleague would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017