When the Indian city of Bangalore went into lockdown on March 24th, PR specialist Tessy Matthew went in search of paper.
As work at her firm dried up, she found herself with an abundance of free time on her hands. She took on as much reading, sleeping and movie watching as she could, but soon craved something new to keep her mind off the global atrocity unravelling before her.
She started learning origami. “I’ve always seen it on movies,” the 26-year old says. “And I’ve always figured it’s something you do when you have plenty of time on your hands.”
Bar keyworkers, most of us found ourselves with additional hours to play with. Unable to see loved ones, head to the gym or pop out for an after work drink, the masses turned to the hobbies we’d promised ourselves that we’d make time for long before Covid hit. Until now, that time had never really been available.
New hobbies kept us busy – and distracted – during lockdown
In a time of international hysteria, hobbies helped cushion the impact. The detrimental effect of the pandemic on our well-being has been well documented; in Britain, stress levels rose and 36% of adults reported feeling ‘scared’ in the week lockdown commenced, almost tripling from just two weeks prior. While hobbies are no magic cure for ill mental health, they have at least provided a welcome distraction.
Matthew’s family were scattered across India throughout lockdown. She was concerned for their health, but folding paper into flowers and butterflies provided a sense of escapism. “That concern is always persistently present on your mind. And you don’t realise how much it weighs you down. But once we started our origami and I got heavily involved, I realised that there’s a portion of time in the day where I’m not thinking about it at all.” At her peak, she was spending three hours a day on her new hobby.
In the UK, almost half of us started baking. Market research company NPD reported a 240% rise in sales of classic games such as Monopoly and Scrabble in the week before lockdown. Language-learning website Duolingo saw a 296% rise in UK users in the week lockdown was implemented compared to the end of February.
We handpicked, nurtured and became reasonably skilled at our new interests
So what happens now?
For 21-year-old Georgia Cadoret, who lives in Cornwall with her boyfriend, learning to surf during those first few months was a “blessing”. Getting outside and hitting the waves four times a week kept her fit and busy. Now though, she’s lucky if she can head to the sea more than once a month.
“I started freelancing with my writing and have just got a waitressing job,” Cadoret says. “[I] am socialising more and just don’t have a whole free day to drive to a nice wave 45 minutes away and take my time with it.”
While puzzles can gather dust on shelves and sourdough starters can sit at the back of fridges without any tears shed, some skills acquired during this time are now being sorely missed.
“I really thought it was going to be part of my life forever at one point,” says Cadoret. As her free time diminishes and the seasons roll towards winter, she fears life has got in the way. “I’ve lost my confidence having taken so long off; the waves are getting bigger as it gets colder.”
24-year-old Ceren Kangal says her new embroidery hobby was equally beneficial. As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, lockdown was driving her “insane”. Embroidery was an antidote. “Having a hobby helped immensely as it was able to help me switch my brain off for a bit”, she says.
Since lockdown ended, there’s an underlying guilt there when she spends time on embroidery. “I feel a lot more guilty for spending any time for myself. Lockdown was the perfect excuse to just spend time on hobbies and being unproductive but I definitely feel the guilt of wasting time now if I try and switch off” Kangal explains.
According to a YouGov poll last month, 45 per cent of Brits said that their lives had returned either ‘completely’ or ‘somewhat’ to normal.
In Bangalore, Matthew’s workload has tripled. “I realise most of the time I feel like I barely have time. In fact, no time for origami because my day is packed,” she says.
Is she sad at the loss of her lockdown hobby? “It’s now that I’m realising the importance of origami.” She pauses, and reflects: “It’s now when I’m not doing it that I realised the impact it had in my life. And the mental balance it gave me.”
How can we keep hold of these small pleasures?
We know there’s a correlation between mental well-being and hobbies, particularly those that are creative or physical. In fact, mental health charity Mind lists ‘get creative’ and ‘physical activity’ in its guide on coping when living with a mental illness.
Louisa Strain, a Mindset and Motivation Coach and Personal Trainer, agrees; she urges those who picked up physical hobbies in particular to try and keep at it post-lockdown. She explains how “if you can see yourself progressing and able to do something physical, it really gives you a sense of achievement.”
By realising that being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive, we can start to allocate time to relaxing. “If you take an hour out and go outside or do a run or another form of exercise, then you will gain in the energy that you will get back in the afternoon – the concentration, the mood – you’ll actually get more time back for yourself.”
She recommends filtering out the hobbies that only served a purpose during lockdown from the ones that could potentially infiltrate your life moving forward. Indeed, “it’s better to do one thing than to just completely stop doing anything at all.”
For Dennis Relojo-Howell, the founder of psychology blog Psychreg, hobbies are not only a distraction; they can offer a sense of belonging. He notes how “there’s also a social element into it. By doing a hobby, you become part of a community.”
Now that our eyes are open to the plethora of hobbies available to us, Matthew hopes that we will be able recuperate more time to ourselves in our ‘normal’ lives.
Kangal feels similarly: “It is all about finding balance and trying to make sure you’re happy with every decision you make. Remembering that you are the main character in your life and that’s important.”
Words by Marcus Wratten
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