I created this article today as a response to someone who asked me if hobbies are helpful and if they can be a factor in the healing process because she finds it very difficult to concentrate on anything.
My short answer was this: Yes they can be very helpful.
Hobbies can be a very useful tool when it comes to the desensitisation process. When we are in the grips of really high anxiety, we are hyper sensitised and constantly focusing on our anxiety sensations.
We become highly sensitive to any bodily sensation and respond with more worry because of it. Even with our thoughts, we might start to worry about things which we’ve never really worried about before.
Even things that we used to find highly pleasurable can now become a worry. This is something which I experienced going through my anxiety. This embarrassed me and frustrated me because I didn’t really find these things fearful, I actually enjoyed them.
However, I was telling my brain through my responses (frustration and resistance) that these thoughts are obviously a problem so I was programming by brain to respond with anxiety to these thoughts.
What I’m trying to get across to you here is don’t be thrown off by the fact that you’re now worrying about things you never used to worry about before. It’s totally normal within an anxiety condition.
Once you understand how to allow the process of desensitisation to happen, you won’t be worrying about things like that. In fact, you never truly worry about these things, you only worry about the thoughts you’re having.
Understand that thoughts are just thoughts and do not need to be taken seriously because they don’t actually mean anything.
We spend so much time trying to work out why we are feeling the way we do and thinking these thoughts through self-analysis, thinking that if only we come to a conclusion in our minds, we will manage to pull ourselves out of this anxiety.
Unfortunately, this is a massive waste of time because focusing on anxiety only causes more anxiety. Focusing on it acts as more food for the anxiety.
Don’t expect the anxiety to be gone
The problem I had when doing my hobbies is that I couldn’t concentrate on the activity. For example, if I was drawing, I would expect myself to not think about my anxiety. Don’t make the same mistake as me.
Read my article about how to overcome this.
I would expect myself to concentrate like I did when I was less anxious. This only served to reinforce the anxiety because I was expecting it to be gone.
“Expecting anxiety to go is anxiety” – Mr Anxiety Free
The whole process of recovering from anxiety is a counter-intuitive one. In order to actually heal our nerves as Claire Weekes would say, we have to stop trying to figure out why we’re anxious, we have to stop digging into our past looking for blame, we have to stop wishing the anxiety was gone through fighting it and beating ourselves up. All this does is lead to more anxiety.
Do things you actually want to be doing
Make sure that whatever you do decide to spend your time doing, it’s something you actually enjoy. Doing things because people have told you it’s a good idea to do so, even if you have no interest, is a really pointless exercise because you’ll just end up getting really uninspired and bored.
Rule of thumb: Whatever you feel pulled towards doing… do that. Most importantly, have fun!
To give you some food for thought, here is a list of the hobbies I have.
- Learning songs on acoustic guitar
- Watching films
- Playing video games
- Drawing & Painting (Something I haven’t done for a while. Plan to start again soon).
- Listening to podcasts
- Listening to music
If anything of these take your interest, go for it!
If you are struggling to focus on hobbies (this is more than likely in high anxiety), then I recommend starting small. Just do a slither of an activity to start with. This will help you to become accustomed to the activity. Forcing yourself to do too much far too soon isn’t really a good idea.
Taking our attention away from anxiety is key
It works in the same way as taking our hands away from itching the cut. I love this metaphor because it is so simple, clear and accurate to the point I’m making.
If we have a cut on our finger, there’s no good in scratching it. This behaviour isn’t conducive to the healing process. If we allow our cut to heal naturally but then go back to scratching the scab, then we will re-open the wound and it will be back to square one.
This is what happens in anxiety. The more we go up in our heads and try to wrestle with the anxiety, try to fix and figure out why we are suffering, talking about how we are feeling and just generally over-analysing anxiety, we can never let the wound scab over and eventually heal.
Healing a bodily wound and healing from anxiety works in the same way. The mind and body have their own healing systems that we need to work with, not against. When we work against our innate ability to heal, we create more sensitisation and tired nerves. The less time you are thinking and focusing on your anxious sensations, the more chance your body and mind will have at desensitising.
This is why hobbies are important because they can act as tool to getting out of our way and allowing the healing process to happen. The idea is to get out of our heads and into the world at present. This is something hobbies can help us with.
I wish I had this understanding sooner because I believe I would of healed a lot of quicker than learning about this through trial and error.
If only I knew how pointless it was to spend my waking day ruminating and arguing with my mind about the anxiety. If only I knew that this is what causes more sensitisation.
Here’s a summary of the desensitisation process including hobbies.
Understand that you’re probably going to find it difficult to concentrate at first.
Accept this fact and just do it anyway because the more we accept and behave as if all is well (something we can achieve through our hobbies) then the brain is going to get the message that there is currently no danger so it will send a signal to the ANS (autonomic nervous system) to switch of the fight/flight response.
If we spend time doing the opposite, i.e., going on forums where people just talk about how bad they’re feeling, researching our symptoms, spending a lot of time discussing how we are feeling to people around us and ruminating over our anxiety, then we are sending back the message that this level of anxiety is necessary because we are carrying out behaviours that signify there’s a problem. Whatever we focus on, becomes empowered by that focus.
So, don’t get caught up in that unhelpful cycle of obsessing about anxiety through behaviours like research, don’t try and get rid of the anxiety, don’t expect it to go. Completely accept and allow every thought and sensation. Allow yourself to move with the waves instead of struggling against the waves of anxiety. If the waves are constant, then so be it. Accept this too.
Obviously this isn’t achieved overnight. It takes a lot of time and practice before we start to recover. But allowing ourselves to feel anxious whilst we focus on hobbies will allow the process of desensitisation to happen.
This is how we work with the anxiety instead of against it.
I hope this article made sense and can help.
Until next time.