On New Year's Eve, I was scrolling on Twitter and came across a post that was blowing up. "I feel like my generation lost hobbies," wrote Kashia Dunner, a business strategy consultant and coach. "Everything doesn't have to be a hustle, side hustle, or money making enterprise. Sometimes it's just fun to do something because it brings you joy, peace, relaxation, or allows you to be creative. Let's rediscover hobbies in 2020." Her statement was enough to make my thumb pause — which is saying something, because I was neck-deep in a mindless scroll hole.
It made me pause because it's true; at least for me, a child-free millennial who lives in a big city (London) and works full time. I realised I didn't feel like I engaged in activities that I like simply because they make me feel good. I'm an introvert, and still, I like to keep my brain a busy place. When I saw Dunner's post on Twitter, I took stock of my daily habits and realised that when I'm not listening to a podcast while commuting to or from work, I'm reading on my Kindle or watching Netflix while simultaneously scanning social media. Like I said, I keep my brain busy.
"When we've had a rough day, or are going through some kind of a mental health difficulty like depression, having something reliable to go back to can also be helpful."
I had to know: was all of this stimulation doing me harm, and should I get a damn hobby? To get to the bottom of it, I did two things. I decided to take up knitting, because it's something I'd wanted to try for a while. I also figured that since it's an offline activity, it has to be better for me than scrolling. I also set up a call with Dr. Janina Scarlet, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Super-Women: Superhero Therapy for Women Battling Depression, Anxiety & Trauma, to find out whether picking up a hobby, like knitting, would be good for my mental health.
In short, Dr. Scarlet confirmed what I thought: yes, taking up a new hobby would probably have a beneficial impact on my mental health. "Our brains are, in general, more stimulated when we're learning a new task," she told me. "We can actually receive a little dopamine boost when learning something new, which can improve our mood."
She also explained that doing something familiar and comforting is very important, especially when we're going through a hard time. "When we've had a rough day, or are going through some kind of a mental health difficulty like depression, having something reliable to go back to can also be helpful." That applies to anything from curling up with a good book to watching a movie you've already seen a thousand times or playing a video game.
Dr. Scarlet said a hobby's value has nothing to do with whether it's offline or online. In fact, she believes the criticism some people face for enjoying time alone indoors or for having online hobbies such as playing video games is unfair. "It's important for people to do the kind of activities that they find joyful, and it's important we give ourselves the permission to engage in the kind of activities that are restorative for us," she said. "There's research showing it's not so much about the activity, or even the medium of the activity you're engaging in, but how connected we are to it. So if we're mindful, if we're fully engaged — whether it's an online game, whether we're alone, or with people — it can have really wonderful psychological, and maybe physiological, effects."
"It's not so much about the activity, or even the medium of the activity you're engaging in, but how connected we are to it."
That means, when it comes to mindlessly scrolling social media, the issue isn't necessarily with the social media itself, but the fact that it's consumed mindlessly most of the time, and that often replaces other activities that bring us joy. "In my experience, the mindless scrolling seems to have a negative impact on an individual as opposed to mindfully scrolling through certain art pieces or, for example, playing a game with other people online."
According to Dr. Scarlet, I actually wasn't doing too badly when it came to engaging in a hobby that brings me joy. I obsessively read — I just took a quick headcount in my Kindle library and can smugly report I've already read 23 books this year, and it's only March — and on the nights that I feel fidgety, I've replaced mindless scrolling with knitting while I watch Netflix.
The final verdict: engaging in a mixture of offline and online hobbies has been extremely useful for my overall mental health. Knitting has been a really great way to stop me from reaching for my phone (because my hands are busy), and I love the satisfaction of creating something. So far, I've made this jumper from We Are Knitters and started creating a blanket, and I feel like a crafty goddess — which I highly recommend.