Hobbies don’t just help us pass the time. These enjoyable activities can have mental and physical health benefits as well. Three Health Stories Project members — Jolie, Kanani and Tyler — share how their creative pursuits help them manage their health, from providing stress relief to ongoing profound fulfillment. Though each enjoys a different outlet, they all feel that practicing artistic expression adds much to their life.

Hobbies, Health & Identity

Jolie: I really don’t call what I did prior to my crashing with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) a hobby. I don’t call what I do now a hobby. The things I did and now do are more of what I call a “reset.” I get so occupied with something I love(d) that my mind has a chance to calm the lingering thoughts that eventually occupy too much of my mind [and] cause stress and severe anxiety. A tightened chest and shallow breaths accompany the stress and anxiety, which makes the PAH get worse.

I used to run. I ran 4 miles every day. Then I did some high-rep weights to tone. I walked/ran a 10K near my hometown of New Orleans. I loved to run! It becomes a part of you. You become a runner. It’s like having a career. If you teach, you are a teacher. If you are a runner, it defines you a good bit. Once I crashed, I was not able to run. I could not even stand for a few minutes. I fought to stay alive, and to this day I don’t know how I made it through that. My son is my purpose, I got better because of him. Thinking of him pulled me through all of it.

Now that I lost my reset, I feel lost. Like, who am I? If I’m not a runner, then who am I? I was a registered sonographer and LOVED my career. So I suddenly became just a Mom. I lost my identity. It was so dreadful to lose myself.

Proof of Kanani’s Passion for Sewing

Kanani: When I utilize creativity, my world is a wonderland. Three hobbies consistently fuel my passion to pursue mindful arts: sewing, gardening and knitting.

The roots of my learning curve are deeply grounded. As a child, my mom introduced me to the sewing machine. She proved I could construct magical creations with this fabulous tool. Dad patiently permitted me to assist him with landscaping our property, presenting opportunities to truly appreciate nature and our precious environment. Aunties took turns demonstrating the endless possibilities for creating incredible knitted fabrics — by simply interlacing a single strand of yarn in a series of connected loops with needles.

When I turned 29, my mental health started challenging me. As time passed, I became very familiar with treatment-resistant depression, bipolar depression, acute anxiety and PTSD. In defiance of these clinical diseases, I developed a strategic plan: employing my hobbies as vessels of hope to provide much-needed relief during stressful times.

Tyler: I suffer from schizoaffective illness and a litany of connected issues that descend from it.

My developing skills in the hobby of miniature painting and terrain crafting for tabletop games have been difficult to earn, but the weightlessness I feel when I capture the imagination of others proves it all worthwhile. Having started when I was 12 years old, I now have 15 years of experience in the hobby.

However, it’s not just about the art — it’s about the games too. [I’ve played] some of the best games from the world’s greatest game designers.

Wisdom Born of Passion

Jolie: I’m over five years in [following my PAH crash] and still want to run to reset. It makes me very sad. I would give anything to do a four-mile run again. I’d take one mile and cry tears of joy!

Jolie’s Creativity on Display

I had to find a new reset. I started doing woodworking, art of all sorts, and I’ve made jewelry. The jewelry didn’t give me enough of a challenge to clear my head. The woodworking and art most definitely occupy my mind enough to reset. I have to focus using saws :). The only bad thing about the art is that I’m a tough critic.

I meditate and it’s wonderful. It’s taken me a while to get into deep relaxation but it’s really worth the work to get your mind to let go. I can easily lose complete lack of time when I go deep into meditation.

Kanani: For me, the momentum of actively creating delights my soul which thrills my heart. Working with my hands keeps me mindful as I’m concentrating on counting stitches or feeling the nourishing soil with my bare skin. Even putting the finishing touches on an ethereal gown I designed from scratch brings light to a dark day.

No matter how small the tasks, my passions keep me in the moment. Engaging all the senses in an uplifting manner.

I have often remarked that my life would fade to black and white if I did not exercise my artistic Gypsy colors. Creativity exists everywhere. Once I truly embraced the concept, I began to think outside of the box. As a result, I feel incredibly grateful, playful, innovative, empathetic, loving, confident and hopeful. These are important emotions. [They] help me stay positive as I encounter the negative sides of my mental diagnoses.

Tyler: There are strong correlations with manic episodes and potential psychosis being leveraged to create my best pieces and sets. When manic, stopping myself when in a flurry of passion and motor-acuity is not possible by simply wishing that I’ll get better. Rather, being able to attach myself to a process where the mundane becomes an asset has proven tactically valid in conjunction with medication, a strong support network and regular sleep.

Stress wears on people with schizotypal traits and illnesses especially. This can cause more cases of manic/depressive episodes or psychosis. It then stands to reason that having a hobby that reduces stress can relieve the chance of relapsing into those low-states and high-states.

Due to the impacts of living with schizoaffective, I am often motionless or zoned out throughout my days. For much of my time, I am not able to work well — if at all. Yet, as I get older, I realize that some months I feel quite well and [am] able to craft and paint as I please. I cannot imagine what I’d do with myself if I wasn’t able to reach for a paint brush during those more manic months.

Advice on Pursuing a Hobby

Jolie: Not all hobbies will be an easy reset. Find something you can do and ONLY have positive results from. Do what you want to do even if you think it will be too hard and time consuming. Have something you work on that will take time. Your inner reward of pride and accomplishment will make a long project worth so much!

Let your reset be something that will be all positives. A quick clearing and/or occupying of the mind is a must. Try new things until you find what works for you.

Be realistic about what you can or cannot do. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Start small and work into the better ideas you have or that come to you. Creativity inspires creativity. Let yourself go where your mind does. Don’t sell yourself short. Everything you do will improve with practice and repetition. Don’t give up on yourself unless you start beating yourself up. In that case, drop it immediately. Keep only the positives.

Tyler’s Brushwork Comes to Life

Tyler: A mere 15–30-minute session can be effective in development. What is important is that you observe progress and reach past it. When you’re down about ability, take a break. Breathe. Remember that it isn’t a race — that you’re in it for goals that are about improving your life and others’ too.

Sometimes people feel a pressure to create lots and lots. I instead posit that one should be happy to work slow if it means that quality of time spent, as well as quality of results, are being further refined.

Kanani: With some exceptions, you can learn a new trade at any age. Pure passion is the key. Nobody is perfect. This includes the so-called “experts” in a given field. Undoubtedly, mistakes are made; it’s our birthright! We must highlight the process with enjoyment. Laugh off our foibles in order to delve deeply into the percipience.

I am inspired by individuals who overcome adversity to pursue a life worth living. Discovering their stories rejuvenates me to work harder at becoming a better person. Helping me to perpetuate a healthier and happier existence. In turn, I am motivated to fill those same shoes and energize others. Behold the benefits of bringing together community!

Jolie L.
Covington, LA
Diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension, bilateral pulmonary embolisms and systolic/diastolic heart failure

Kanani W.
Santa Monica, CA
Several mental health diagnoses

Knoxville, TN
Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder

Does your hobby or creative pursuit do more for you than simply entertain? Add a comment below or sign up to share your story.