By Pia Johansson
Anything can be a hobby, really. It doesn’t have to be knitting or collecting trains. It can be something you do alone or with your partner or your children, and it can involve physical activity. It doesn’t even have to be your passion. Just something different, something you like, something that makes you feel good about yourself, something you do (almost) purely for enjoyment.
Hobbies are self-care. They help with stress relief and general well-being. On a physical level, hobbies and recreational activities reduce cortisol levels, blood pressure and even waist circumference. In addition, it has been shown that the impact of stressful life events was reduced in people with a higher “hobby-score”. Something new that I came across when reading about hobbies is the idea of Eustress. Eustress is the positive form of stress that makes us perform and feel excited and motivated. It’s what makes us see challenges instead of obstacles. And having hobbies favours this, not just within the hobby, but in other aspects of your life as well.
Very well, you say, but I really don’t have time for that! Well, here’s an interesting bit of psychological food for thought: we might not be as busy as we think. It has been suggested that we like to be too busy, that we even think it’s good to not have time for that sort of nonsense or frivolous activities, because we are all so busy doing important things. It seems like we have lost the sense and appreciation of our spare time. Now, I know, we are all mums, so being busy is not just in our heads, but that doesn’t mean hobbies or general self-care is out of the question. It just takes planning, of course. If your hobby takes you out of the house, then the children need to be looked after and the logistics of this I leave up to you, but don’t feel bad for leaving them; they can whinge without you for an hour. And happy mom = happy child. Not only because you are looking after yourself and feel less overwhelmed, but because they see you look after yourself; they see you doing things that are not just housework, things that make you happy and challenge you, deepening their idea of you as well as their current and future selves.
I used to think I didn’t have a hobby and that I would love to do something more artistic like taking photos, sewing or baking. But even though I like doing these things, they are not my hobby: I don’t make time for them and they are not so high on my want-to-do list. But I have one thing that I like to do quite often, that I like to think about, read about, talk about, do with others, do own my own and that brings me joy, stress-relief and self-confidence: running! I love it! And as a full-time working mum of two children under four, I really like that I can combine my Eustress-inducer with physical activity, as that is really important to me, too.
How does one hobby, then? Well, the main thing is to find something you think you’d like to do. Maybe there was something you used to do when you were younger that you really liked. Like painting, dancing or singing. A common misconception is that those things are for children and teenagers and that you would feel silly standing at home playing with paint. First of all, it’s not just for children and don’t feel silly. Secondly, there are lots of adult painting, dancing and singing groups, and of course the focus is not on technique or speed or the potential of joining the New York Ballet, but on enjoyment.
Taking a course is really a great way to start, especially if you already know what you might like. You will find other like-minded people, advice on how to do things, and you will have a set time (that you paid for), so you will be more likely to actually do it. Because as we all know, it takes time to form new habits and for interests to grow deeper. I actually didn’t like running that much when I started, but then I liked it a bit more and the half-marathon made me feel quite accomplished and strong. But after the birth of my first daughter, things changed, and I suddenly got really, really into running. Über Moms played an important role here, because it was so fun and motivating to be part of this community. And it is a hobby that goes well with having small children (the just out the door, back as soon as you’re done, anytime is fine sort of thing) so it’s really perfect for this point in my life.
Another great way to find a hobby is to look into what your friends and online communities are up to. Maybe three of your friends already run or paint, why not ask to join? I often find that I have so little time for friends these days, especially new ones, so finding a new hobby and deepening your friendship with existing friends might be a really good 2 for 1 deal. Obviously, running or painting might not be your thing, so move on and try something else. And it doesn’t have to be social, either: it can just be you and your stamp collection hanging out. You don’t even have to tell anyone; it works the same anyway. Again, hobbies are not compulsory, but if you feel you need something that is yours, something that makes you feel like you, something that doesn’t need anything from you, then maybe give it a go!
Pia Johansson is a research scientist in neurobiology, mother of two and working mum. She was an expat for almost twenty years, in Australia and Munich and a short wild stint in Dublin many many years ago. She is in the throes of being repatriated to Sweden with her Australian husband. She likes talking, running and talking about running. And chocolate (although mostly 85% these days, as crazy as that sounds). In addition to staying fit and eating healthy, and raising happy healthy children, she dreams of doing something a little bit creative like writing or becoming a photographer. Or at least organizing her photos soon.