‘Tis the season of resolutions to make 2022 the best year yet. When it comes to wellness, weight loss often tops the list, but here’s a more exciting goal to consider: Find a hobby.
Give something new—like pottery—a whirl. Sketch a scene, or dream up a poem. Play an instrument. Join a community running or biking group. Why? Because all hobbies have brain- boosting superpowers.
In these pages, we explore the hobby-wellness connection and how locals are engaging in art, music, and exercise throughout the 405.
Psychiatrists like Jennifer Morris of Edmond Psychiatric Associates don’t just prescribe medications to help patients improve their mental health. Social prescribing—encouraging patients to adopt activities outside of their daily grind—is also commonplace.
“Hobbies can help with depression, anxiety, [and] attention deficit and thought disorders, like schizophrenia,” Morris said. “And for folks who are at risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, having hobbies is protective for the memory decline that’s associated with those things.”
TAKE YOUR TIME
While indulging in a favorite pastime daily may seem like a splurge, experts say it is actually a healthy habit. Studies indicate one hour of hobby time a day protects against neurocognitive-declining illnesses by 50 percent.
However, life can be busy, and it’s easy to fill your “free” time with social or family obligations instead of a hobby. Morris suggests blending the two for a win-win, like when she plays tennis with her son.
“I’m meeting his needs, but I’m also able to meet my needs for this hobby—and it’s really cool when all of these pieces fit together,” Morris said.
Morris tells those who feel overwhelmed by the one-hour recommendation of hobby time to start small.
“Carve out 10 or 15 minutes, rather than putting pressure on yourself,” Morris said. “Have a dedicated time, and tell yourself, ‘Self-care is important, so I’m going to make this appointment with myself.’ After all, taking care of yourself puts you in a better position to take care of others.”
Many people coped with the pandemic by doing something new. (Remember the yeast shortage when so many people were baking bread?) That’s because attempting something new is the antidote to feeling low.
“When you’re engaged in a hobby, it engages the reward system part of your brain,” said Morris. “This [system] gives you reinforcement, like, ‘Hey, I was able to accomplish this.’ It gives you a sense of purpose, helping to offset something called anhedonia, which is low social energy, low physical energy, and low drive.”
Morris notes humans are naturally social creatures, and hobbies lend themselves to that, too.
“Whether you are pursuing an activity individually or in a social group, hobbies not only engage your brain, they also allow us to be part of a larger group, providing an opportunity to identify and interact with that group,” Morris said.
In other words, even if you enjoy going on long runs solo, you can identify with other runners. You become part of a larger community.
EXERCISE, ART, AND MUSIC
When it comes to choosing, any hobby that challenges your mind or body goes. However, exercise, music, and art are the most studied activities in mental health, according to Morris. Each offers amazing benefits.
“Exercise increases a chemical called brain direct neurotrophic factor, and that’s a neurochemical that we really have a hard time getting at with medicine,” said Morris. “With exercise, you get new blood vessel growth, and you improve rational think- ing and intellectual performance. Exercise also increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain, so your brain gets activated.
“With music, they’ve studied brain waves. Music can increase alpha and beta waves. Alpha waves are useful for relaxation and meditation. When you are engaged, that’s your beta waves. So, when you get both of these guys going, it improves depression and anxiety.
“Art—just like music—provides a nonverbal way to express yourself. That can help with generalized anxiety and social anxiety.”
Exercise, art, and music are proven to increase neural connections as well as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin—the neurochemicals that make us feel good. So, pick a hobby … any hobby … and here’s to 2022!
- GUTHRIE BIKE NIGHT: “At Guthrie Bike Nights, we get to be around great people without the typical anxieties [of organized gatherings]. We show up, ride bikes, and yammer for an hour or two. The ride down Logan County gravel roads is a social ride. The exploration, community, and calm that goes along with riding a bike with a welcoming group of miscreants has been something I’ve really hung onto pretty intensely.” – Justin Fortney, organizer
- RED DIRT POETRY: “The most healing thing about being in a community of creative people is finding out how deeply strange everyone is when you hear them read their poetry. I started going to poetry open mics as a 15-year-old from a broken home. It took months of showing up to The Paseo every week before I worked up the courage to read. When I shared, I was greeted with love and support from the other poets. The encouragement made me write more, and the open mic gave me a place to share. In a world where I felt like my voice didn’t matter, I suddenly had people who listened to me.” – Sarah Yoko Bagley, organizer
- INK & DRAW: “Ink & Draw is hosted by a rotation of professional comic book artists, graphic designers, and illustrators. Week after week, the artists show up amid the tables dusted with used eraser and pencil shavings. Something deeper has been happening at Ink & Draw beyond the nuanced arguments over anime and how to draw perspective. It’s a clan of art outsiders who’ve finally found their space to feel accepted, welcomed, and valued for the role they are playing to reshape the culture of our city.” -Charles Martin, creative director
- PREACHER POTTERY: “People love that ‘A-ha’ moment where the clay starts to conform to their hands. They come in with no prior knowledge or experience, so they come in really open. Then, they get their hands around the clay and, as they begin learning about fingertip pressure and hand techniques, the clay begins to respond and take the shape they want. When they begin to see success, they get kind of hooked. Students have told me on more than one occasion that pottery is kind of an escape for them—a healthy way to get their minds off of things that can be pretty all-consuming. They come here, and it’s outside of what their normal day-to-day [life] is. It can be a release for them and a place where they find success, where they didn’t necessarily expect to find it.” – Micah White, owner
- MUSIC: “In my own life, music has always been a lifeline. In high school, my mother needed a heart transplant. I would sit in my room every night with my guitar and play till the sun set and I couldn’t see my hands anymore. Though those times were difficult, I can credit them with fostering a passion [for guitar] that has taken me and my students to many exciting places and provided meaningful and life-altering opportunities.” – Matthew Denman, musician
- RED COYOTE RUNNING CLUB: “We have 100 to 150 people running with us. This is the place where people come to build community, make gains through competition, and set and make weight loss goals. I love our beginner nights. I watch newcomers meeting new goals. I’ve overheard people say, ‘This is my favorite night of the week!’ and ‘I’ve always told myself I can’t do this, but I just did!’” – Josh Lacan, organizer