By Adam Tuttle for Boston Compass Blog
December 16, 2020
Self care is an important part of our mental health tool box and especially so now as we continue to trudge through the ongoing pandemic. Taking time to engage in invigorating activities, giving our bodies time to recuperate, and getting back to once loved past-times is vitally important right now. So how do we go about distinguishing when our hobbies and leisure activities are no longer giving us the release that we need? How do we know when our batteries are no longer being recharged and we skew into avoidance or have we always been turning to hobbies for avoidance? Competitive video games, Zoom D&D campaigns, and Netflix binging has become such a big part of our lives through quarantine. We are all looking for ways to connect like we used to and as social creatures we need those connections. For many our evolving communication has been a life saver, but this has also brought up challenges in knowing how to balance release from avoidance.
Evaluating the nature of our relationship with hobbies can be tricky as it is often a very personal connection. Our sense of self worth, social network, and our image of who we are can often be tied up in our identification with a particular interest or fandom. Our identification with a particular world and its rules can bring us a sense of belonging or bring a sense of order to our lives. For example; one might have a strong investment in their D&D character’s backstory, spend countless hours researching the meta for an upcoming Magic the Gathering tourney, or spend all their time playing and thinking about new strategies for Overwatch. There is nothing wrong with fandom and indeed there are many benefits in having a safe place for our brains to “idle” in the absence of stimuli. We get a great deal of joy from our hobbies and the sense of belonging and community that comes with it is very important, especially now. What is important to consider is how we relate to the hobby and what we are getting out of it. Are we still relating to our hobbies in the same way that we used to have we retreated into the fantasy at the cost of our real life relationships? This may be an especially important relationship to consider during this challenging time.
So how do we take stock of our hobbies and what can be done? It is important to spend time evaluating our wants and needs from time to time. Which is true for our relationship to hobbies as well as any of our relationships. To what extent are we prioritizing our hobbies over others, neglecting our other responsibilities, are we able to be objective in our evaluation of the benefits from them, do we feel anxious when we take space from them, and do we end those activities feeling more energized and confident or worse off than when we started? How we approach activities and the mindset we have going in can have a big impact on what we take away from the experience, be it with hobbies or so many other ways we utilize our time. How often have you gone into a situation (work, a party, a family gathering) in a bad mood or expecting to have a bad time and left feeling the same? In the same way we can influence our ability to reap the benefits of our self-care activities by priming our brains for a particular outcome (a classic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Technique). Taking back control of our relationship to our hobbies and the energy we put into it can help us feel more in control of our lives generally. When we feel a lack of control over our ability to recharge from our hobbies there can be a downward spiral over our feeling of control over our stress, which can impact how we talk to others around us, reflecting our stress onto them, and down the spiral goes.
Perhaps when engaging in activities it may be helpful to ask yourself:
Do I feel better afterwards or worse?
If I feel worse, where is that feeling coming from?
Do I find myself reaching for escapism only when I’m overwhelmed?
If so, are their different ways to manage the feelings or do I need to seek more support?
Are my relationships, career, personal hygiene, social obligations suffering as a result of my pursuits?
As the pandemic continues, practice being kind to yourself and recognize the importance of meaningful activities in our lives. Try to come to them for the purpose of de-stress and relaxation vs avoidance of the pressures of our lives. Give yourself permission to own your experience and take back control over your hobbies and your relationship to escapism.