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.
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.
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.
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