The Best Hobbies to Pick Up During Quarantine—and After

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

Jennifer Nied
From puzzles to dancing to baking bread, more and more people are playing just for kicks. It doesn’t matter if your new reality is a few 100 or 1,000 square feet (thanks @ COVID-19), now is the perfect time to embrace the rare opportunity for open-ended, unstructured play.

Enter: hobbies, which, by definition, are any activity done purely for pleasure in your free time (…or, you know, just things to do during coronavirus quarantine).

Turns out, hobbies are really good for emotional wellbeing and mental health, according to Navya Singh, Ph.D., psychologist, adjunct faculty at Columbia University in the Department of Psychiatry, and founder of mental health-care company wayForward.

“Any hobby is a good thing to alleviate such feelings of sadness or anxiety,” she says. (Which, ICYMI, is especially key in this world of social distancing.)

The best part: you can’t pick a ‘wrong’ hobby. At the end of the day “learning and completing an activity that’s new and challenging gives you a sense of mastery, which improves your self-esteem,” says Stephanie Parmely, Ph.D., a psychologist with Dignity Health.

If you’re on the hunt for a playful pastime, consider these ~cool~ hobbies to pick up and inspire a new activity. Who knows, you may discover you’re a puzzling phenom or the next Picasso after dusting off those supplies in the closet.

Jigsaw Puzzles for Adults
Puzzles have been around for centuries, but puzzling is really having a moment. “I think there’s an appetite for getting away from tech and the hustle-bustle and just going back to the basics,” says Kaylin Marcotte, founder and CEO of Jiggy Puzzles. “Of course, right now, everyone’s spending a lot more time at home, so puzzles are great for passing the time solo or with others.”

And puzzles can help you connect with friends and fam outside your home. Just take it from Amanda Kahle, co-founder of puzzle company Inner Piece: “One of my closest friends is doing a puzzle competition with her long-distance family,” says Kahle.

“They all bought the same one and allot two hours a day to do it. They have nightly check-ins and the first one to place the final piece wins.”

Not only is this a great way to stay connected with loved ones no matter the distance (or the prize, TBH), but it can also strengthen bonds amongst puzzlers. Researchers at Yale University found that participants who puzzled together experienced improved collaboration and cooperation skills and better relationships.

Whatever your method, puzzling brings real science-backed health benefits: improved cognitive abilities, problem-solving skills, and visual-spatial reasoning. And once you finally solve a puzzle, your brain experiences an “Aha!-moment,” releasing mood-boosting neurotransmitter dopamine and producing a sense of relief, according to research in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

Cooking and Baking
Puzzling not productive or practical enough for you? Then consider cooking (beyond your weekly meal prep). To move cooking from a chore to a hobby, steer clear of your usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner cooking staples, says Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a nutritionist in New York City and for Daily Harvest. Yes, you are an Iron Chef when it comes to your go-to gluten-free chicken recipe, but that’s the problem: You know it so well, you could prepare it in your sleep, not to mention it’s now just another weeknight dinner.

“Things become a chore when you have to do them and when you no longer find joy but more exhaustion in the activity. A hobby is something you look forward to doing, you find time for, it makes you happy, you feel calm and want to be engaging in that activity,” says Shapiro.” You don’t have to dive into a Mary Berry-esque baking project; as long as your kitchen time brings you joy and makes you excited it falls in hobby territory, according to Shapiro. (Need some inspo? Chefs are offering online demos to up your culinary game.)

“The repetitive nature of chopping or stirring, the creative aspect, the comfort from the heat of the stove, the strict guidelines of baking, it can all be very cathartic,” says Shapiro. And science agrees: A study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who often take on projects such as baking or cooking reported feeling more relaxed and happier. So, try out cake decorating or join the bread-making bandwagon (it’s all the rage on Insta RN). If you dread the idea of adding even more of a mess to your usual cooking-and-cleaning routine, then consider a different type of culinary hobby: food photography or planting your own veggie garden.

Adult Coloring Books
Adult coloring books brightened your world a few years ago, but now is an excellent time to dust one off and color your way calm. In fact, research published in the Art Therapy: Journal of American Art Therapy Association suggests that coloring mandalas (a popular geometric Hindu or Bhuddist pattern within coloring books) can decrease anxiety in just 30 minutes. Your coloring book doesn’t have to be filled with mandalas to be mindful, though. The researchers found that any reasonably complex geometric pattern can bring about the meditative state and relief from anxiety.

What’s more, a study in the Creativity Research Journal found that these anxiety-reducing powers can last long after your coloring session. So, it’s safe to say that those who are feeling a bit down or anxious thanks to, say, the coronavirus pandemic (*raises hand*), may benefit from one of these books, says Celia Lie, Ph.D., a teaching fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago.

Crafts for Adults
If you’re craving more freedom and creativity than coloring inside the lines allows, channel your inner DIY-er and get crafting. Yes, crafts can be and very much are for adults (c’mon, finger painting will always be fun). When it comes to crafts for adults, think painting with watercolors, practicing calligraphy, scrapbooking, knitting, and basically whatever your imagination—or, let’s be honest, Pinterest—can dream up. What’s particularly great about creative activities like needlepoint, cross-stitch, puzzles, coloring a page in a coloring book is that they allow you to see “definite progress” and “an endpoint that is clear,” says Parmely. “These all involve a sense of completion [and]sense of mastery, which improves your self-esteem.”

Knitting, in particular, wins points for helping you focus on the present, according to Sherry Benton, Ph.D., psychologist and founder and chief science officer of TAO Connect, an online mental health resource. “Mindful activities can include focused breathing, crocheting, knitting, needlepoint, coloring, or any other activity that helps you be in your senses in the moment and let go of thinking,” she says. “Mindful practices strengthen the frontal lobe which increases focus, attention, reduces anxiety and depression, as well as gives you greater appreciation for the moment.” Making all kinds of arts and crafts turns on the reward center in your brain, according to research. (Related: How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation Anywhere)

Dance Around
Feeling antsy? Uh, same. After all these days sheltering-in-place, who isn’t? So, channel your inner T. Swift and ~shake it out~ with a little dance—no rhythm or experience required. Whether you follow along on YouTube, sweat it out via dance cardio videos, or try your hand at the latest TikTok routine, you can enjoy all the feel-good benefits (boosted mood! increased energy! better self-esteem!) that come with nailing a routine and breaking a sweat (no judgment—those kids on TikTok are legit). Plus, compared to various ways to sweat it out, one study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, found that older women who frequently danced had a 73 percent had a lower risk of disability. Dance, unlike other activities, combines balance, strength, endurance, and cognitive ability. (And, in turn, it can also make you a better athlete.)-