Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hobbies Relieve Stress!

It's undeniable: We Americans are mighty stressed today—from trying to make the mortgage and save for retirement in this REALLY troubled financial climate…to raising kids and caring for aging parents…and attempting to prepare healthy meals and get enough exercise. That’s why it’s so important to pursue inexpensive activities that can relieve stress—and bring you joy!

That's where the concept of craft to heal comes in: Research shows that having a hobby you love can have mental, physical and spiritual benefits. Performing a hobby, whether it’s taking photographs, gardening, cooking, scrapbooking, quilting or throwing a pot on a wheel, distracts you from your worries and anxieties by making you focus on the here and now. Making a quilt or knitting a sweater brings a sense of peace and connects you with yourself. It gives you the opportunity to think about things, to center yourself and to be quiet and contemplative for a while.

A study sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that pursuing a hobby can also help stave off the brain fog and loneliness of old age. Trying new things and being creative by singing in a chorale, taking dancing lessons, painting, or doing crossword puzzles or brain teasers prompts our brains to grow dendrites, connective pathways that keep the brain healthy.

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 mentally 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 your 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.”


Beth Grossman said...

Your site is inspiring. I was drawn to it because I recently created a book of tributes for my friend who celebrated her 50th birthday. I had so much fun putting it together which involved contacting her friends for letters and photos, then transferring the sentiments onto the beautiful paper I selected. I looked forward to the time I put aside each evening to work on it. My friend was elated by the surprise and said it was especially significant that I had taken the time to do this.

Barbara said...

Well, you're certainly persuasive! I feel like I should start a project right now! What about those of us who truly aren't "crafty"? Do you have any tips for choosing an activity that feels hobbyish and is soothing, without feeling like a life-long commitment?

Nancy Monson said...

Hey Barb,

First off, you're one of the most artistic/creative people I know! That's all that's meant by crafty. All that doodling, your landscape design, your personal style. Creativity is all about problem-solving and we ALL do that every day, so we're all more creative than we give ourselves credit for.

Second, you make a good point. You've got to find the activity that works best for you or it's not going to relieve stress. You need to consider your personality--are you very spontaneous and free-form in your thinking, or more a color-inside-the-lines kind of person? If you're the latter, it's going to be difficult for you to enjoy cross-stitch or carpentry, hobbies that require a lot of precision.

That said, I think a fun, time-limited craft for everyone is arranging photos. We've all got them and there are lots of options for creating pleasing designs. Maybe you want to put them in a simple album, use a website program to arrange them into an electronic set-up (like one of those digital photoframes you can get at Staples) or do a scrapbook page. Going through the photos can bring up a lot of great memories (as Beth mentions in her post) and be a very soothing and pleasurable activity. I think it can be fun to do with the kids too.

Other simple projects are beading and knitting or crocheting a simple scarf--I love the funky, colorful yarns they're making now and the simple designs that are very forgiving of dropped stitches (given that I'm a knitting LOSER).

And, of course, gardening is soothing, isn't it, not the least because we get to spend time outdoors on a nice day (think spring!)? That's why your store, Derby Farms, is so inspiring. It gets you in the mood for a day with flowers.

AmyRF914 said...

Wow Nancy. You sure hit it on the head. It was so nice to read how we can use crafting to fight stress. I loved how you reminded me all the various ways I can satisfy my crafting needs - and work on stress in the meantime! When I get to busy with work, I use that as an excuse. Your list of ways to find time and ways to bring in crafting hit home. Your ideas reminded me how much I do enjoy crafting and how it is an escape. You've inspired me to throw down my work and get back to my quilt!! Thanks for this and keep blogging!


Amne said...

Hi Nancy, I sure do know all about the theraputic benefits of crafting. I can't wait for my weeks off to go up north & sew away. Some days I barely sleep. When quilting I feel so relaxed & such a sense of accomplishment.Now that the cold weather has set in, there's a hundred projects just waiting to be done. Still have a Greek quilt in me yet to come out!

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