the winter blog

5 Hobbies I Use To Improve Mental Health

Posted by Amber Corinne

To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.

Winston Churchill
From ADDitude Magazine: Hyperfocus refers to an intense fixation on an interest or activity for an extended period of time. People who experience hyperfocus often become so engrossed they block out the world around them. Children and adults with ADHD often exhibit hyperfocus when working intently on things that interest them.
a woman, reading a book and eating fruit 
hobbies
Photo by Amina Filkins

There’s not much to report on my end. Due to the holidays, any appointments I had been going to have come screeching to a halt. I have time to work on some homework I got in therapy, but some of it is heavy stuff. In true ADHD fashion, I’m sure that I will put it off until the very last minute. Seriously. It’s scary.

With no immediate appointments, no work, and a global pandemic, I find myself with a lot of time on my hands. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself unable to relax completely. I know now that my ADHD symptoms have gotten worse with age and trauma and C-PTSD related anxiety makes it hard for me to relax. Make no mistake, you will often find me sitting and doing nothing; it is rarely a “relaxing” nothing. So, I’ve developed several hobbies that keep my need for stimuli in check, for the most part.

There is a joke in the ADHD community (yes, there is a community!) that ADHD folk collect hobbies and, at any given moment, have several unfinished projects lying around. We learn about something and it clicks inside of our brains. We hyperfocus on researching it and learn everything we possibly can about it. Then we impulsively spend approximately one million dollars to buy every top of the line supply that we can find. Once we receive the supplies, our hyperfocus has run out or moved to the next “thing” and we promptly abandon said hobby. The joke is funny because it is true.

My Hobby System

I’ve developed a system over the years that has cut down on my abandoned projects. I have narrowed it down to several avocations that I stick with and I just cycle through them. I hyperfocus on one or two of them at a time, usually. When the obsession wanes and I find myself in that uncomfortable ADHD-limbo between projects and the boredom and restlessness know no bounds, I usually cycle back to one of the 5 or 6 things that I love to do. There are still moments of hyperfocusing on new things and I’ve certainly dived into brand new activities and then not given them a second glance, but it helps to have the go-to’s.

Each of these things helps me in its way. It wasn’t until I started prepping to write this blog that I had even really thought about what each hobby means to me and what need they fill in my life. They each provide me with a different kind of stimulation and my brain needs stimuli of all sorts, at all times. In fact, in my research on ADHD, I’ve learned that there is an actual physiological reaction in my brain when I’m absorbed in my interests and it sends me all of the good brain chemicals. Also, they all just help me unwind and relax.

There is a period between hyperfocus “episodes,” if you will, that is uncomfortable and can be almost physically painful for me. I am bored and I get restless in a way that nothing eases. During these times, even my labors of love can’t fill me up. I can’t get started and, if I do, I can’t stay focused long enough to create anything. Filling these days can be hard and it results in endless hours of doom-scrolling on my end. Nevertheless, my leisure activities always come back around to save the day.

Without further ado, let’s dive in…

Journaling

I can’t remember the first journal I ever had or even when I realized that I loved to write and that included writing down my feelings and thoughts. But I do remember the first journal that counted; it was the first journal I ever had that someone else picked up and read and didn’t like what they found. I digress, it was an A5 3-ring binder that I bought at an ACE Hardware/Benjamin Franklin combo store and I decorated the cover with puffy paint. I poured my soul into those little, cheap pages and I was hooked for life.

Throughout my life, long-form journaling was an outlet. Sometimes, I would journal something and then realize it was more than a journal entry and I would nurture it into long, heartfelt prose. I wrote my little heart out. I was never a daily journaler. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I’ve learned since that the combination of my ADHD and my other brain illnesses have kept me from having any real sort of daily routine or habits. I’m working on it, though.

In 2017, I was scouring ideas for a writer’s notebook. I wanted to make a dedicated notebook to all things writing; prompts, ideas, ways to track, etc. While doing my research, I came across a concept that would change everything for me…bullet journaling. I immediately fell headfirst into the delight that is bullet journaling and the bullet journaling community. Again, I had no way of knowing it, but bullet journaling was created by a man who needed a way to manage his….wait for it…ADHD symptoms! I plan to do at least one more post on bullet journaling, how I use it, and how it has helped me over the years.

From there, a whole new world of journaling opened up. I discovered multi-media art journaling and junk journaling. For the last couple of years, I have been submerged up to my ears in creative journaling and I honestly could not be more delighted by it. Journaling gives me an emotional and creative outlet and fills my desperate need to create something from nothing. I try to be sure to do one type of journaling *at least* twice a week.

Reading and Books

Yet another situation where I couldn’t possibly remember the first, but I remember the first books that changed everything for my tiny little brain. My 3rd-grade teacher, Mrs. Reese, read us the Indian In the Cupboard, by Lynn Reid Banks. She let me borrow it afterward and I devoured it on my own. Later that year, we read Number the Stars (Louis Lowery) and my heart forever belonged to books.

Photo by Maria Orlova

I am still amazed at the emotion that a story can make me feel. I find myself loving the characters as if they are my own loved ones. I’ve fallen in love with fictional characters and I’ve wept at the deaths of characters and people who, by the end of their story, had come to feel like family. I can get swept away in a story and find myself in another land. Books have carried me from my troubles for as long as I can remember. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without all types of stories.

I’ve always had a bookshelf in my room, when I was a little girl and now, and they were always filled with books. Most I had read, some I had not. A couple of years ago, I realized that I find comfort in just the act of owning and collecting books. Don’t get me wrong, my goal is to read them. Being around stories makes me feel safe and warm and fuzzy inside. I even find comfort in the way that books smell. Knowing that I will always have something to read is a security blanket…a ticket to faraway universes no matter what is troubling me in real life.

I only read 3 books in 2020. I know for most people that is a lofty goal, but I normally read about two dozen books a year. I’ve been feeling some guilt for neglecting such a deep and abiding passion for so long. The truth is, the pandemic has exacerbated some of my symptoms and I find it harder to concentrate on reading for long periods. My daughter has not gone into a school building since February and she has pretty severe ADHD symptoms, even with treatment. I’ve been sticking to activities that are interruptible; that I can jump in and out of quickly. That said, I’m going to make it a goal this year to make the quiet time to read more this coming year. Reading fills my brain’s need to escape. Whenever I’m feeling trapped by the real world, a good book always takes me somewhere new; to someone else’s problems.

Writing

This list is in no particular order and, if it were ranked in order of importance, I probably would have listed writing first. At my core, I am a writer; I wouldn’t be a whole person without it. I have been pouring out my soul and coming up with story ideas since joining The Young Writers of America in the 3rd grade. There hasn’t been a time when I didn’t journal or blog or write stories and essays. Writing is ever-present in my life.

Starting a blog has been tough for me because all I want to do is write, but I actually want people to read it. To make that happen, I have to do a lot of things other than write. There are Twitter posts and funny memes to get more followers on Facebook and spending time making promotional material for Instagram. How many followers do I have and can I get more and will they even read the blog?? It’s a lot. I’m not very good at most of it, but I’m getting there. Sometimes I get caught up in all the planning and prepping and posting that I forget to focus where it counts…just writing it all down. As I said before, writing fills the need for my brain to have an outlet.

Crochet

When I was about 12 or 13, maybe younger (ADHD brain won’t allow me to remember exactly) I spent my summer vacation at my mom’s house. She worked and I spent a good portion of the day home alone. So, she taught me to crochet. For years, I never really did anything with it. I would pick it back up now and then, but would only fiddle with it for a few hours before I lost interest and moved on.

Photo by Anete Lusina

A few years ago, I started having regularly scheduled, severe panic attacks. They were becoming a daily occurrence and I was desperate to find some relief. I was on a cocktail of medications that were not helping. Somehow, during this time, I came across a ball of yarn and a crochet needle and I decided to make a scarf or a blanket or some such project, I don’t remember. What I do remember is that hyperfocus kicked right in. I started buying yarn and planning projects. I started watching YouTube tutorials and learning new stitches and skills. I made 2 blankets and then decided I would make everyone’s Christmas presents for the year (an idea that I followed through with, but deeply regretted🤷‍♀️). I would spend HOURS a day with my crochet project and I eventually burned myself out.

What is important about this time is that, when I was working on a crochet project, the anxiety just melted away. I could constructively focus my brain. It was almost like having my hands busy allowed my brain to sort through whatever it was that was causing my panic attacks. The effect has held; I still use crochet to get through bad anxiety periods.

A couple of months ago, I was dealing with some pretty severe and regularly occurring panic attacks. One of the main symptoms was that my hands would tremble so badly that I would have the urge to continually wring or shake them. I pulled out the yarn, thinking that having something specific that I could do from muscle memory might calm down the tremors in my hands. Just like magic, the anxiety melted away and I no longer had “restless hand syndrome.”

I’m not saying that crochet is a good replacement for therapy or medication for anxiety. I would never advocate anything so dangerous. Only that they say, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground,” and my crochet projects guarantee that my hands stay busy so that my brain can slow down a bit.

The Silver Screen, the Big Screen, and the Newsroom

I debated whether to add this category to this post. I guess it’s pretty controversial to add television and news to a hobbies list. Just hear me out. This category is filled with one of my biggest loves and one of my longest-running hyperfixations…stories and the news.

Photo by John-Mark Smith

I hyperfocus on television shows and movies the same way that I hyperfocus on books and stories…because they ARE stories. I have the same emotional reactions. I fall in love. I hate the bad guy and need to see him lose. I cry when a character that I love like a family member passes away. If the hyperfocus turns into a hyper-fixation, I find myself Googling the characters, and eventually, I know everything there is to know about all of the actors that play their parts. For whatever reason, TV and movies have become a safe place for me; again, someone else’s problems to get lost in.

As for the news, well, I am a news junkie. I always have been. Even in my late teens and early 20s, I would spend hours a day pouring over news headlines. In my mid-20s I started being interested in politics. I sometimes spend days hyperfocused and hyper-fixated on what is happening in this world. Those aren’t always my best moments. The news always tends to give me some anxiety and to make me feel sad and overwhelmed. I often have to take “news breaks” just to give my mind some time to recoup. But there is some chaotic energy in the news cycle that my brain craves and there is plenty to feed it these days.

That’s the end?

So that about wraps it up. These are my main, go-to hobbies, each with its unique pros and cons. I try to remind myself that time spent doing something you love is always well spent, but try telling it to my dirty dishes. Hyperfocus and hyperfixation both have their times and places. Sometimes they feel like a superpower, especially if you are focused on the right things. Other times, I forget to eat and shower and use the bathroom because I’ve been hyperfocused on how to draw an elephant for the last 6 hours. It’s hard to find a middle ground, but I’ve been trying lately to at least make sure that when I am intently absorbed in my hobbies, I can then constructively use the finished product in my every day life.

Hopefully, things will pick back up with my recovery soon. My doctor’s appointments start back up next week. I’ll have plenty of time for journaling and writing and reading until then. I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

What kinds of hobbies keep your mind occupied? Do you journal? Bullet journal? Do you love to read? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Love and light and fight the good fight!💜💜

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