Using analogue, creative hobbies for mental wellbeing – and a HUGE list of hobby ideas

From previous posts in here or comments on my Instagram or Twitter feed you may have come across me owning up (occasionally and discretely) to having been diagnosed with both anxiety and panic disorder. I am also, in general, an advocate for looking after positive mental health and I am a trained mental health first aider.

Key to managing my own stresses are all my hands-on, lo-fi, non digital hobbies. I don’t use any medication for my anxiety (I have tried in the past: it just doesn’t suit me) and apart from the occasional blip, I handle my situation by having these tools to turn to when I need both distraction and mindfulness – and supportive people (this is crucial but I won’t address this here).

Looking after your good mental health with activities isn’t confined to those who have an issue! If you consider that you have great mental health these activities will still bring you benefits.

It’s been well documented that creative outlets are great for good mental health and can even help with much more severe conditions (I’ve tried to find a few reputable sources and I’ve listed these at the bottom of the article). It doesn’t take, or need, a PhD research paper to be able to work this out yourself though.

It’s the full engagement that really helps I think: what has (for the past few years) been described as mindfulness. When I was younger I’d describe it as ‘me getting happily lost’ in what I was doing. The same level of immersion also works with many non-creative activities (even clearing out a cupboard, labelling or vacuuming the car can be engrossing) but I find that creative hobbies provide another positive layer as well as the mindfulness.

However – and it’s a big however – a skill level for being creative is immaterial. You do NOT need to have any kind of ‘gift’ to engage in a creative hobby to benefit from it.

A creative hobby isn’t necessarily art or craft related. Cheese making, gardening, playing a musical instrument, sport and fitness, being a model railway enthusiast or going fishing are all examples. I’ve written a big list of ideas of creative and immersive hobbies below.

Your creativity is just for you, less you choose to share. You don’t need to inform anyone about your hobby nor does anyone need to see you doing it or your end result (unless you want them to). That said, engaging friends or family (your children for instance) in the same activity may help you start something new if you are better in a group environment.

Although this will vary for you, I’ve found my own benefits of engaging in a creative project might be (not all apply, depending on the type of activity):

  • Mindfulness/that sense of being lost in something
  • Peace and tranquillity
  • That total immersion and concentration on one thing
  • An abatement/lessening of symptoms of anxiety or panic
  • That it is a period of time where other external factors are forgotten for a while
  • A sense of completion/achievement/progression
  • A sense that I have made something tangible and lasting
  • The chance to learn and grow
  • The chance to try something new
  • The ability and time to fail and make mistakes (and therefore learn from those mistakes) without anyone needing to criticise you
  • Pride in a job well done, or at least in the learning of something new and overcoming obstacles in its completion
  • Achieving the milestones I’ve set for myself – however small (eg the first time you’ve run continuously for 10 mins, finishing a new hiking route, producing a loaf with an unusual flour, using a new tool etc)
  • An excuse to obtain, make and use nice materials and tools (where finances allow)
  • The tactile nature of physical hobbies – feeling different materials, especially natural ones is a positive experience
  • Getting outdoors
  • Getting away from the digital world for a while
  • Re-engaging with old traditions and skills

I aim to increase the craft and art posts in my website (as well as continuing with the recipes and food-based information) to provide little easy projects. Whatever you try, it doesn’t matter if you are brilliant or dreadful at a thing or anywhere in between. All that matters is the process: the act of creatively completing something. And if you find you don’t enjoy one activity, there will most certainly be something out there that will suit you.

Hands on bread making - here I'm plaiting a boule - Lynn Clark - inksugarspice

My BIG list of ideas for creative hobbies for immersion / mindfulness / to get happily get lost in

(I’ve created three areas that relate to the subject matter of this website: crafts, food and lifestyle, but find what works for you!)

Note: updated March 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic. All hobbies in BLUE can be done indoors or in your garden/on your balcony (such as birdwatching). Also remember that here in the UK at present you can exercise outside (running, walking, cycling) once a day at the moment if you adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Get supplies online.

Arts and crafts

  • Crochet
  • Sewing
  • Knitting
  • Embroidery
  • Leatherworking
  • Basketry
  • Weaving
  • Spinning wool
  • Tufted rug making
  • Macrame
  • Papier mâché
  • Decoupage
  • Upcycling old furniture/restoration/upholstery
  • Watercolour / gouache
  • Acrylic or oil painting
  • Clay sculpture
  • Pot throwing
  • Lino printing
  • Wood whittling
  • Carving – wood, clay, shop etc
  • Carpentry
  • Model making
  • Origami
  • Illustration
  • Felting
  • Pastel or chalk drawing
  • Calligraphy
  • Quilting
  • Stop motion filming
  • Block printing (fabric or paper)
  • Blacksmithing (you’ll need a course and access to a forge but it is possible!)
  • Silversmithing / metal jewellery making
  • Qulling/paper sculpture
  • Enamelling and resin jewellery making
  • Bead work
  • Miniature model painting
  • Tie dying
  • Making paper
  • Paper marbling (oil paint on water – like on book fly leaves)
  • Pyrography
  • Engraving

Food

  • Bread making
  • Sourdough bread making
  • Pasta
  • Flower sugarcraft / modelling
  • Character sugar craft / modelling
  • Hand painting cakes
  • Preserve making
  • Cheese making
  • Brewing
  • Wine making
  • Fermenting
  • Decorating iced biscuits

Lifestyle

  • Rambling
  • Foraging
  • Wild flower bombing
  • Bird watching
  • Flower identification
  • Flower pressing
  • Gardening
  • Vegetable growing
  • Herb growing
  • Photography
  • Soap making
  • Running/jogging
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi
  • Juggling
  • Keepy-uppy / hackysack football skills
  • Dancing lessons / sessions
  • Flower arranging
  • Singing – along or a group (choir / rock choir)
  • Bonsai
  • Creative writing
  • Blog writing
  • Poetry
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Astronomy
  • Model planes/boats/cars
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Scrapbooking and journalling
  • Fishing
  • Geo caching (including setting up geo caches for others)
  • Geneaology / family tree tracing
  • Collecting
  • Bee keeping

Psychology papers and academic articles

Psychology Today (online) article “Recent Art Therapy Research: Measuring Mood, Pain and BrainPsychology” written by Cathy Malchiodi PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT. Looks at two studies:

  • Art therapy improves mood, and reduces pain and anxiety when offered at bedside during acute hospital treatment (Shella, 2017) focuses on the role of art therapy in possible improvement of mood and reduction of pain perception in patients hospitalized for medical conditions;
  • Cortical Activity Changes after Art Making and Rote Motor Movement as Measured by EEG: A Preliminary Study (King et al, 2017) uses a common neurological instrument to compare cortical activity after art making with rote motor movements.

Frontiers in Psychology (online) paper “Creative Arts Interventions to Address Depression in Older Adults: A Systematic Review of Outcomes, Processes, and Mechanisms” by Kim Dunphy,  Felicity A. Baker, Ella Dumaresq, Katrina Carroll-Haskins,  Jasmin Eickholt,  Maya Ercole, Girija Kaimal, Kirsten Meyer, Nisha Sajnani, Opher Y. Shamir and Thomas Wosch (see article for author details).

The Health Benefits of Knitting – by Knit for Peace (findings by Harvard Medical School)

Other resources of interest

TED talks ideas website on “Why grown-ups love [sic] coloring books tooExcert: Just what is the adult coloring book craze all about, anyhow? Anyone who has appreciated a meditative mental drift while knitting or mowing a lawn knows that there is something calming about engaging in a familiar, low-impact activity that requires minimal thought and bestows a clear sense of progress.

Hobbycraft blog on ‘How to practice mindfulness through craft‘ written by Sandra Owen, a Creative Teacher and Grief Recovery Method Specialist.

Huff Post article (2014) on ‘How baking could help stressed Brits access mindfulness and relieve anxiety’

University of East Anglia: How singing your heart out could make you happier Researchers examined the benefits of singing among people with mental health conditions including anxiety and depression. They found that people who took part in a community singing group maintained or improved their mental health. And that the combination of singing and socialising was an essential part of recovery because it promoted an ongoing feeling of belonging and wellbeing.

Mental Health First Aid England

I’ve been trained as a Mental Health First Aider – please follow the link below if you’d like to know more about this, to train yourself or encourage your workplace to investigate supporting this.

Find out more about Mental Health First Aid England

No Panic – registered UK charity which helps people (or those they care for) suffering from panic attacks

I’d love to know what works for you… especially if you have any additions for the three lists above under arts/crafts, food and lifestyle headings that I could include or additional online resources.

Hugs 💚

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