We’re all aware of the dangers of the novel coronavirus to our physical health, but could it be possible that we are also dealing with a mental health pandemic? The United Nations has acknowledged the severe impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our mental well-being, as we deal with fear, grief, isolation, domestic conflict, and uncertainty.
Those of us lucky enough to be staying at home are finding ways to cope. Many of us have more free time, and there is a lot of pressure to utilize the lull in our once-packed schedules productively by taking on more work, actively participating in online classes, or learning new skills. While maximizing professional growth opportunities is definitely ideal, pushing ourselves too hard might be doing us more harm than good.
What, then, should we be doing with our time, if we want to take better care of ourselves? A new study from the University College London is making a good case for taking on hobbies, reinforcing the idea that they aren’t just beneficial for our well-being–they may also help stave off depression, which plagues many of us nowadays.
Hobbies and Their Mental Benefits
The study looked at 8,780 adults aged 50 and above, who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing and were assessed every other year between 2004-2017.
At the beginning of the study, 71.9% of the participants reported having a hobby, while 15.6% were above the threshold for depression. The researchers determined during the study that taking up a hobby appears to be connected with a 30% decrease in the risk of experiencing depression, as well as a decrease in depressive symptoms in both men and women, and in both those who were free from depression, and those who were already diagnosed with depression at the baseline.
Through further analysis, researchers also found that among participants who did not have depression or hobby at the beginning, taking up a hobby was linked with a 32% decreased chance of developing depression. On the other hand, among those who had depression and no hobby, taking one up was linked with mental health improvements and a 272% higher chance of recovery. In conclusion, the study supported the social prescribing of hobbies as a supplement to patients’ existing care plans.
The Case for Leisure
What does this tell us? Perhaps this crisis might be the perfect opportunity to consider that while maintaining a livelihood is certainly essential, maybe we shouldn’t be working all the time. When was the last time you removed yourself from your phone or computer screen or the news on TV, and chose to do something for pure fun?
We can’t really fault ourselves for having this “always-on” mindset; after all, we were raised with the belief where every minute not spent towards making money is a minute wasted. Anything we do outside of our hustle feels like a guilty pleasure. As we wrestle with increasing stress, depression, and anxiety amidst a pandemic and global political upheaval, this is a mindset that we need to change, more than ever.
Thomas Fletcher, chairman of Leisure Studies Association and a senior lecturer at the Leeds Beckett University, echoes the sentiment that our attitude towards work and leisure needs to change. “I would argue that rather than thinking about how leisure can promote greater productivity, a more important consideration is how work inhibits our leisure time,” he told the New York Times.
You might be wondering, what’s a good way to get started with hobbies? Doesn’t watching TV or casually browsing the Internet already count?
There’s nothing wrong with engaging in these passive activities, but there are more benefits to be reaped from what sociologist Robert A. Stebbins calls “serious leisure”, that is, activities like making art, gardening, sports, or games, that are characterized by the need to persevere, and the need to put in the effort in order to gain skill and knowledge.
Consider things you may have enjoyed when you were younger or things you picked up years ago that might be lying around in your closet or attic. Perhaps you loved to draw when you were a child; perhaps you enjoy singing in the shower; perhaps you might have a dusty guitar that just needs a little tuning, a bag of yarn and knitting needles, or a pile of old sketchbooks. Put your devices away, pick it up, and just get started. If you’re anxious about making mistakes at the beginning, don’t fret. It’s all part of the process. After all, enjoying a hobby means there’s no pressure to perform at your best, no competition, and no deadlines.
As The Guardian had so aptly put it, you are more than the economic value you generate; there is more to life than just getting things done.