Why Hobbies and Interests are vital

Search this site here:

Hobbies and spare time interests play a very important role in the avoidance of anxiety build up or in overcoming it.

There is a diagram on the page about the arousal system which shows that when we have low arousal which isn't welcome at the time we would say we are 'bored'.

Boredom can trigger anxiety

Although anxiety is characterised by raised negative arousal, boredom is a negative emotion. It starts out when we are bored and are telling ourselves we don't like what we're feeling, that we're fed up.

If we don't then find something that catches our interest we begin to resist this negative emotion and wish it wasn't there. Eventually, as we focus on this more and more the arousal level increases until what was low negative arousal is now high negative arousal i.e. anxiety or frustration.

When writing about how my own acute anxiety state came about, I mentioned that in the months immediately before I had become increasingly restless - bored. 

There was nothing worth watching on TV and I lacked sufficient time (or so I thought) to get engrossed in any of my favourite pastimes. Had I not had this ongoing rumbling negative arousal in the background, my final acute anxiety state might not have blossomed as it did.

The aim of life, according to ACT, is to focus on the positives rather than the negatives in each moment as far as possible. When you have hobbies or interests which you choose to do, this is much easier. I am assuming here that these interests are things you actually want to do for their own sake. If you are doing them because you feel you should or because someone else wants you to, they don't count.

There is an old saying that:

The key to happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want.

Therefore, the more of your time you are able to spend doing things which truly interest you, the easier that becomes.

I frequently see people in my everyday work who have no interests whatsoever and then wonder why they feel anxious or depressed. An interest doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. Reading novels can be a hobby, for example, or gardening, cooking or walking in the countryside. Or you might enjoy doing jigsaws, drawing or just noting the different kinds of birds that come into your garden.

If you have a serious anxiety disorder at present, such as PTSD you may find you are unable to concentrate on anything, even watching TV, for any length of time. That doesn't matter. Even if you only do something you usually enjoy for just a couple of minutes, that's a start. Accept what you can do, however little, rather than stressing about what you can't.

The internet has provided wonderful opportunities for people to get involved in hobbies they might once have never considered. Many people become hobbyist Ebay traders or even start their own websites about a special interest. You don't have to do something an a commercial scale, small scale is fine. You might begin to trace your family tree or write a novel. The main ingredient is enjoyment.

Many years ago when I was training in psychotherapy, we were always being urged to be ourselves. One day I asked my mentor how I could find out who 'me' was. He told me that each moment I felt at one with whatever I was doing, be it washing up or riding my horse, that that was 'me'.

It was a simple lesson I have never forgotten. If you can do something and just be at one with the simple pleasure of doing it then you are aligned with self.

Everyday Feelgood Factors

pink flowers for mindful aromatherapy
soles of feet for mindful reflexology
image of hobbies for mindful activity
woman with dumbbells for mindful exercise