Pastimes are undergoing a resurgence in popularity lately, especially with a focus on crafts. But they’re much more than fashionable – they’re a vital element in building mental wellbeing and emotional resilience.
There will always be pastimes that are fashionable for a period of time – a quick look at Etsy will bring you up to date on those. However, their long-term appeal is based on the benefits they bring to our mood and quality of life.
Here are five areas to think about when choosing a pastime or telling yourself that you don’t need one.
- Our hobbies and interests give us a space that is just for ourselves. It may plug us into a group of like minded people, but the primary appeal is that they let us mark ourselves out away from relationships and work. This is particularly important for people approaching retirement and the self-employed. We need a hinterland to give depth to ourselves, which is why interests and pastimes are such a good indicator for life expectancy after retirement.
- They give us the opportunity to be creative rather than to consume. In considering creative hobbies or interests many people discount themselves from taking part by comparing themselves to an ideal outcome. For instance, they say they’ll never be as good a painter or musician as someone else. This misses the point of the creative pastime. The point is the process itself, and not just the outcome.
- Pastimes can invoke ‘flow states’, where we are at our best. Flow states are when we’re engaged in a task that we find demanding, but not so demanding that we find it stressful. They’re normally physical in nature, and give us immediate feedback so that we can adjust what we’re doing immediately. They also see us lose track of time, and become completely engrossed in the task at hand. Whether that’s a computer game or embroidery the benefit is in the flow state that the task enables.
- Learning and refining new skills keeps your brain plastic. The benefits of a more plastic brain extend beyond the pastime, and into all other areas of your life. Your ability to learn and recall new information will be improved, as will your creativity and adaptability. Perhaps the most potent pastime as regards these benefits is learning a new language. Even ten minutes every day spent listening to an audio course on the way to work can prompt increased brain plasticity.
- Pastimes can involve other areas that support mental health. Whether it’s gardening, and spending time in nature, or a team sport, and spending time exercising amongst friends, we can gain multiple benefits from our interests and hobbies. And don’t forget the other important areas – time spent around nature and animals, and time spent with family and friends.
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