The Importance of Hobbies

What do you like to do when you’re not working, taking care of your family or doing other things that have to be done?

It’s a question that I ask folks in my office all the time. Why? Because hobbies, or avocations, are an essential part of overall mental health. Really!

Much of our time and energy is taken up by things we have to do:

  • earn money
  • take care of children, pets, aging family members
  • clean the house
  • keep the yard tidy
  • pay bills
  • manage our stuff in all its forms
  • eat, sleep, take care of our bodies

Many of these things are enjoyable (hopefully work and family are – at least some of the time!) and provide us with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Both very important things!

But in order to achieve and maintain good mental health, there also needs to be some room for hobbies, or avocations. These are things that don’t have to be done, but are simply pleasurable and meaningful in their own right. For some folks, hobbies are what gives our life meaning.

Hobbies can provide us with opportunities to grow and learn. They can also give us opportunities to challenge ourselves and stretch the boundaries of our comfort zones. Some of these kinds of hobbies might be things like:

  • vegetable gardening
  • bread baking
  • fiction writing
  • playing chess
  • quilting
  • playing guitar
  • running/jogging

Often, hobbies also provide us with opportunities to socialize with other people who are interested in the same quirky things we are. But the cool thing about these relationships are that they are born out of mutual interests not out of obligation.

Stay tuned for ideas about how to pick a hobby that works for you!



Children & Clothing Battles

“MOM!!! I have nothing to wear!”

“MOM!!! I’m only going to wear pink, twirly dresses from now on!”

“MOM!!! The only pants I like are sweatpants with elastic waists!”

“MOM!!! I know it’s snowing, but I have to wear shorts today!”

Have you every heard any of these – or similar – statements?  Ever have battles over clothing in your house?  Does each morning bring fights between you and your child about what they can (and cannot) wear to school?  Clothes are a big deal in my house.  With two young girls particular about what they wear, I frequently hear comments like the above.   So what’s a parent to do when their child begins asserting their own style and no longer wears the cute outfits you bought without complaint?

Set some ground rules. I pretty much have one in my house: I don’t care what you wear as long as it’s clean.  You may have some others: no skirts above a certain length, no low-cut tops, no underwear showing…you’ll have to pick a rule or two that suits your family.  Keep the list short though, the longer it is, the tougher it will be to enforce.

Is the fight really worth it? Often times it isn’t.  Does it really do anyone harm if your preschooler wears her princess dress to school?  Your 3rd grader only wears Broncos gear? Your high-schooler wears shorts all year ’round (in Michigan).  Probably not.  Identify times when you insist on “appropriate attire” i.e. church, visiting Grandma, family pictures, airplane rides (that was my mom’s rule – still don’t know why).  If it isn’t one of those special times – let it go.

Give them the responsibility. Older kids want certain clothes? Tell them to save up their money and buy them on their own.  Are they frustrated when their favorite top is dirty? Let them do their own laundry.  Are they irritated with the way their clothes look or fit?  Teach them how to iron and make simple alterations.

Get creative. If your child is really passionate about their attire – harness that creativity!  Embrace their enthusiasm and engage your budding fashionista.  Sewing classes, drawing lessons, books on fashion design – try checking out these resources instead of spending your energy fighting your kid.  Who knows, you might have the next Vera Wang on your hands!  As someone who spent part of high school wearing nothing but flower-child dresses, Birkenstocks, and crystal necklaces, I can appreciate that clothing preferences can be an ever-changing expression of a child’s personality.  Do we really want to squash it?

My solution to preschooler’s must-have item of the moment (simple black dress): design it & make it ourselves!

Top photo by: rlcasey


Stress in America – Stress Tip #3 – Try Something New

I recently wrote a post about the importance of hobbies in lowering stress.  Hobbies are awesome – they are just for fun, not related to work, and give us pleasure.  But if your old hobbies just aren’t doing the trick in lowering your stress levels, what can you do? Try something new!

Rock climbing, knitting, speed walking, baking, crossword puzzles – it can be just about anything – as long as it’s new to you.  The benefits of learning new skills can be many, including:

  • Distracting you from the stressors in your life.  I recently took up sewing and it takes so much concentration and mental effort that I don’t have the brain power to think about anything else.  It’s the perfect antidote to a tough day.
  • Keeping your brain healthy.  Want to keep your mind sharp and your memory intact?  Researchers and clinicians recommend staying mentally fit, and what better way to do that than learn something new?
  • Expanding your world.  I have a friend who recently started cross country skiing.  She has been amazed at the new experiences that have opened up to her since she started hitting the trails.  She has met new and different kinds of people, has subscribed to new magazines and blogs, and is now planning vacations around her new passion.   What could be better than that?

Stress Management: The Importance of Hobbies

I spend a large percentage of time helping people manage their stress more effectively.  And when I talk to the media, one of the first questions they typically ask is “What are some good ways to manage stress?”  My answer: Anything that’s healthy and works.  Sure, yoga’s great but so is just breathing, sitting quietly, reading, and walking.  I’ve admitted to reporters (I always let my guard down when they get me talking!) that some of my favorite stress management strategies include: watching House Hunters and tweeting John Mayer.  Embarrassing – yes, but also effective.  Given that @johncmayer no longer exists, I’m glad I have a few other stress management tools up my sleeve.

In our fast-paced, productive-every-moment, never-relax world, I think many of us have forgotten the importance of hobbies.  I had a supervisor on my internship in graduate school who told everyone who walked in his office that they should be spending more time on their “avocations,” i.e. hobbies.  I’m not sure I would go that far, but I do think the pleasure, stress relief, and change of pace that hobbies afford us are quite valuable.

One of my favorite hobbies? Baking.  Not only is it fun, your friends and family will likely encourage you to spend time doing it – the rewards are just too sweet to pass up!

Halloween cupcakes - Yum!