Hobbying and Mental Health
We are in uncertain and crazy times. Fear and anxiety about the Covid-19 global pandemic can be overwhelming. There is no real playbook for how to handle the virus, how to process isolation, or how to manage fear of the unknown. Since the beginning of March, Americans have reported an increase in depression, fear, and anxiety stemming from both concern about the virus itself and from our efforts to flatten the curve and control the disease’s spread..
Gaming and hobbying has always been a form of escapism, even before COVID-19 forced us to find ways to fill our time during quarantine. To help us understand how and why people turn to games for solace and comfort, we sat down with mental health expert and TableTop regular, Nathan Croy, to talk about using gaming and hobbying as a healthy coping activity.
Q: Can you help us understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping?
Coping skills are designed to do one thing: Help our brains calm down so we can think clearly and make good decisions. That’s it. They don’t actually fix anything. The primary benefit they provide is giving us power over our own choices. You can measure a coping mechanism’s healthiness and helpfulness using a simple four-point “test” – and it’s easy to remember from its acronym: D.I.C.E.
- Dependable: Is it safe to continually use or will it eventually hurt me or others?
Drugs, alcohol, and self-harm are technically coping mechanisms, but they obviously fail this test.
- Internal Locus of Control: Can I do this all on my own with minimal equipment or does it require a specific setting (e.g., being at home) and/or unique equipment (e.g., target practice)?
- Creative: Am I creating something or am I consuming something
- Expressive: Does it help me express something or does it minimize my experience?
If a hobby or coping mechanism makes you feel better and meets those criteria, it’s probably healthy.
Q: How does that look different during global emergencies?
Healthy coping skills don’t look any different during global emergencies than they do during a more localized or minor crisis. They serve the same purpose: To help us make better decisions with a clear mind. Making important decisions reactively (instead of intentionally) yields mixed results and keeps us at the mercy of external factors. Once we’re calm, we can be intentional about our decisions and choose how we want to respond.
Q: How is hobbying in the healthy column?
Hobbying meets all 4 criteria:
o Dependable: It isn’t harmful
o Internal: We have control over when we engage in our hobby and have access to it (it doesn’t always require special settings)
o Creative: We’re creating something, not consuming
o Expressive: The way we paint can be incredibly expressive! Making our own minis, sculpting, color schemes…there are many ways we can use hobbying to express what’s going on within us.
One of the most important components of hobbying is the community that comes with. The relationships that develop while engaged in hobbying can be just as important as the hobby itself. The social component of hobbying is crucial.
Even solitary hobbies, like puzzles, have a supporting community we can engage in at differing levels. Whether online, in-person, at the hobby shop, or even while watching videos, there are many different ways to engage in these communities at whatever level you’d prefer.
Q: Can hobbying become unhealthy?
If we use hobbying to avoid crisis, it can become very unhealthy. Just like any skill, if we lack discipline it can not be available when we need it. For instance, I (try) to set aside time once a week to re-organize my paint station. I’m not meticulous about it, but it’s important I can access it when I need it without having to reset everything. On the flipside, a coping skill can turn into an addiction. Addiction isn’t something I can get into here, but here’s a guideline I like to use: Do I have more control over my behavior, or does my behavior have more control over me? If more resources than possible are being spent on a hobby, then it may be growing into a form of addiction. Boundaries need to be established and maintained in order to prevent hobbying from turning into too much of a good thing.
Q: What advice would you have for people who are looking to use hobbying to help them through this?
Discipline is crucial for coping skills! Frequently, we see hobbying as an act that is subject to inspiration. In other words, we do it when we feel like it. However, using coping skills is just that: A SKILL! Skills require practice, discipline, and intentionality. If we wait until we feel like doing them, or wait until we need them, they may not be there for us. This leads into “hobby walls”.
Q: How do you power through hobby walls? Is that healthy? Is it ok to be in a rut with hobbies?
Discipline is all about training ourselves in an intentional way to correct or shape how we behave. One of the best things I’ve ever done for hobbying is committing to engaging in the hobby for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, every day, for 365 days in a row. I used an app on my phone to track my progress; this was how I held myself accountable to disciplining my growing skill.
I made it to about 375 days and decided that was good. I have young kids and wanted to be a little more flexible and accessible for the activities in their lives. I still engage in hobbying at least 4 days a week, but I don’t feel the need to engage daily. Not only have I grown in skills, I have grown in discipline. When I have a stressful day and need to focus, I can count on being able to engage in my hobby without (as much) difficulty in figuring out how I need to do the hobby!
The goal of maintaining a hobby streak is more about practicing discipline than it is about succeeding at meeting a certain number. Start with where you are already, and then create a schedule/goal that pushes you a little. Some people may be able to practice their hobby 3 hours every day with little to no effort. For some, just carving out 30 minutes, one day a week, can be a huge time commitment! It’s not about “succeeding”, it’s about practicing the art of being disciplined. It is a skill and, like Jake the dog said: “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something”. It’s important to give yourself grace and patience when you’re learning any new skill! Chats with the Void created a cartoon that illustrates this beautifully:
Q: What do you do when you don’t find enjoyment even in the fun hobbies?
This is the time when discipline is so crucial! They aren’t always enjoyable, but that’s a skill.
To help encourage hobbying as a healthy coping skill, TableTop Game and Hobby and Existential Family Therapy are sponsoring a Hobby Exhibition. We want you to share what you’ve been working on over the last few months and how hobbying has helped you process the uncertainty we face everyday. All proceeds from the exhibition will be matched by Existential Family Therapy and donated to the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Coalition – It’s OK (https://itsok.us/). They are a collaboration across KC agencies to “support, engage, and provide essential human services for people facing challenges in everyday life or times of crisis-regardless of faith, age, culture or lifestyle”.
From the participants, we will draw for prizes from TableTop Game and Hobby, including gift cards and hobby supplies!
- Send three photos a picture of your work to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Include a personal statement about how you’ve used hobbying as a coping skill, 50-500 words
- Buy a ticket here
Entries are due June 20th at 6:30pm. Winners will be announce at 7:30pm LIVE on discord!