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There’s an old saying that goes: “The Devil makes work for idle hands.”  Whether you believe in the Devil or not, it’s hard to deny the truth of the statement.  When people are bored, we are prone to getting up to mischief.  The same can be said for our minds.  When we aren’t focused on a task, our minds have a tendency to wander and it is all too easy to get lost in our own thoughts.  This is fine if we are engaged in idle daydreaming, but if we are worrying about the future or obsessively dwelling on regrets in the past, then our thoughts are likely to lead us to uncomfortable and upsetting places.

Hobbies or pastimes can be really useful ways to refocus our attention onto a task or an activity.  A mindful approach and awareness about your thoughts is undoubtedly a positive thing but when we find ourselves introspectively wandering the halls of our minds too often, it can lead to problems.  To put it simply, if you find yourself over-thinking, it is possible to refocus your mind on something external.  Having a hobby that you can throw yourself into can be really useful as a means of distracting yourself from unhelpful negative thinking.

Hobbies aren’t just useful means of distraction.  If your hobby is a sport or involves some form of exercise, you will be benefitting from the physical and the mental benefits (see E is for Exercise).  If your hobby involves engaging in an activity with other people, you will benefit from the social interaction and potentially find comfort and support from the network of friends and acquaintances.  It is known that people with a hobby which involves creating something (photography, music, art, writing, knitting or any other kind of craft), are able to take great pride in their creations and find such creative acts to be both satisfying, enriching, and a positive means of self-expression.  Such a creative hobby can help shape someone’s identity and become a means of positive self-worth.

When we engage in something we enjoy, a part of our brain called the nucleus accumbens is activated.  This part of our brain is important for processing rewarding stimuli and it makes us feel good about life.  Another area of our brain called the septal zone is also stimulated when engaged in a pleasurable activity.  The septal zone is the brain’s “feel good” area and when it is stimulated, we feel happy.  When engaged in an activity that we are focused on, the levels of ‘happy’ chemicals in our brains (such as dopamine, norepinephrine and endorphins) are raised, and this leaves us feeling great.  Doing something we enjoy is also relaxing.  This can help lower blood-pressure and reduce our stress-levels.

If you don’t have a hobby, think about the things you like to do.  This might be listening to music, gardening, or reading.  Perhaps you already have a hobby but you just haven’t realised it!  Look at the different weekly events and groups that take place around the island.  Participation in groups (a reading group, for example) can be a great way of meeting people with similar interests and sharing your passion with others.

For those who have a hobby, but feel that they don’t have any spare time to dedicate to it, read through the list of benefits above once more.  A hobby or pastime should not be viewed simply as a means of passing the time, it can be an essential means of looking after your physical and mental health.

So read those books, write those poems, paint those pictures, collect stamps, fly kites, go fishing, play sport, potter in your garden, climb those hills… do whatever makes you happy.  It won’t be time wasted. 

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy

Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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