When taking time to enjoy the weekend, I realised the importance of hobbies and general relaxation for promoting and maintaining good mental health. Without time to switch off from our busy working lives, our stress levels can increase and, over time, can potentially remain at a constant high; this is very damaging for our health, in terms of weakened immunity, poor sleep, changes in appetite, hormonal changes, increased blood pressure and cardiovascular health, coupled with poor coping strategies such as excess alcohol intake. The overall danger of long term unchecked stress is that it also increases the risk of depression, cancers and cardiovascular problems. It is therefore somewhat essential that we take time out to pursue hobbies that we enjoy, in order to relax and look after our mental health.
My favourite way to unwind is, undoubtedly, by reading books. For purposes of relaxation, my reading material has to be fiction; non-fiction books are what I associate with study. My chosen areas of fiction are very diverse, and range across titles such as Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the Scandinavian noir of Henning Mankell’s Wallander series, Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series to Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series. Reading is a fantastic hobby that can transport you virtually anywhere; the pure escapism is wonderful and very hard to beat. I established myself as a ‘bookworm’ from a very young age, and it is a love that has never abandoned me, and has helped to keep me sane! Non-fiction books additionally serve me well, but the intellectual stimulation that they produce requires more concentration, and are hence less of an easy read. Intellectual stimulation is good however, and for me is essential for a healthy state of mind.
The other way that I relax is by walking with my Basset Hound dogs. Research has repeatedly shown that spending time with dogs is good for our mental health, as well as physically reducing our blood pressure levels through stroking and interaction. As well as making loyal pets and companions, our canine friends are used as pat dogs for the elderly and for people living with dementia. For me, it is my dogs’ qualities of loyalty, unconditional love, and the humour that they bring that makes them special; I cannot imagine a home and a life without dogs. I also love the essential exercise through walking that accompanies owning a dog. Walking is a great way to relax, to improve general mood and physical well-being. Walking can also be an effective way to maintain or reduce weight. Daily dog walks additionally allow people (and dogs) to connect with other people, whether they are other dog walkers, or neighbours / local residents. Meeting other people is good for the mind, as it guards against isolation and strengthens our support networks.
As well as having dogs, I also share my home with a beautiful Horsefield tortoise. The tortoise’s dietary requirements form part of the daily dog-walking routine, as it is an excellent opportunity to gather fresh vegetation, such as dandelions, clover, grass and so forth. The tortoise also shares many of my own vegetable dietary components, but there is nothing quite like being in touch with nature and gathering free food from the surrounding countryside.
Although not one of my regular hobbies, this weekend I re-discovered the simple pleasures that can be gained from sharing ‘childhood’ box games with family or friends. For a rush of competitive adrenaline, I find the best game is Frustration (sometimes called Pop-up); while for a longer more considered game, I personally enjoy Monopoly, draughts or Scrabble.
Whatever your choice of hobby or pastime, it does not really matter, just so long as it is relaxing. Working, resting and playing are all equally important, and can all be beneficial for our overall brain and body health.