Why having a hobby might be the best medicine

Living Well | Lucy Cleeve | Posted on 12 June 2019

Don’t have the time to pursue a hobby? That may be exactly why you need one.

The word ‘hobby’ has an old-fashioned ring to it, but it’s the meaning that really feels antiquated: “An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure”. 

Our fast-paced modern lives often don’t stop spinning long enough to allow the relaxed leisure-time activities enjoyed by previous generations.

We welcomed technology into our lives to make things easier and to give us more free time but, instead, it has left us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, and the mass effect shows no sign of waning. ‘Digital addiction’ has turned many of us – including our children – into screen junkies who struggle to avoid swiping, clicking and scrolling for any significant period of time. 

A grey-brown scarf is draped over a wooden table, on top of an open diary

Slow down – you move too fast

Oxford University researchers are currently collecting data on the relationship between creative hobbies and mental health. The Yarnfulness Project team are working on the premise that regular participation in craft activities reduces stress and improves wellbeing. By focusing on a skilled activity, psychologists believe we can enter a mental state of ‘flow’. This immersion in the present moment boosts energy and creativity and helps minimise distractions and negative thoughts. 

In his 2017 book, The Pleasures of Leisure, Australian author Robert Dessaix explores the growing need to achieve true work-life balance in our overloaded lives. He sings the virtues of adults who practise loafing, lolling, nesting and playing – and also urges us to siesta and stroll. He writes, “At leisure, it transpires, we are at our most intensely and pleasurably human.” 

The Finnish Winter Olympics team caused a social media sensation last year when they were photographed knitting on the slopes at PyeongChang. It was reported that the athletes were encouraged by their coaches to knit in order to improve focus, reduce stress and calm competition nerves. 

Three balls of grey yarn bundled together with one thread coming loose
A woven black and white basket filled with brown balls of yarn on top of a wooden stool
A brown scarf-in-progress with a knitting needle threaded through, on a white background

Put the extra time cooped up indoors this winter to good use by taking up a crafty new hobby.

Winter warmers

As well as the mental health benefits of getting in ‘the zone’, working on a craft project – as the Finns well know – is a cosy, inviting way to spend your winter hibernation. 

“We do get a lot busier in the cooler months,” says Marilyn Bensted, long-time owner of Melbourne’s Wondoflex Yarn Craft Centre. “Our busy time usually starts just before Easter, that’s a real flag for us. People start thinking about what they’d like to work on and the season extends from then depending on the weather.”

Get started

Traditional craft skills have been passed down through many generations, but now there’s YouTube. Online tutorials may lack the warm and fuzzies of human connection, but they also make it easy for anyone, any time, to gain new skills. 

Marilyn‘s advice? “Start simple. You want to begin with a project where you’ll get a result quickly to make you feel really good. Just get it done. Knitting a cushion is a good one – something with big wool and big needles. And ask for help along the way, we’re always happy to help new knitters or felters, any type of craft. Helping learners is how we inspire the next generation to continue with these crafts.”