By Olivia Montes
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate the lives of many individuals, it can be difficult to search for and dedicate yourself to taking up different activities in between Zoom conferences, work hours, and other time-consuming responsibilities.
“While the world [continues to face] a crippling pandemic, many of us are staying home, figuring out… [how to and] trying to remain sane,” The New York Times Wirecutter reporter Marguerite Preston said in 2020. “But taking up a new hobby, or dusting off an old one, might be just the thing to give your brain a break from the worry spiral, even if only for short stretches at a time.”
Here are a few tips as to how students can learn new hobbies during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Know the difference between a “hobby” and an “interest”
According to The New York Times wellness reporter Tara Parker-Pope, while an interest is described as one having “the desire to learn about something…spawn[ing] from natural curiosity, professional goals or family experiences,” a hobby is “essentially the active pursuit of that interest.”
“We engage in [hobbies] voluntarily and consistently when we are free from the demands of work or other responsibilities,” Parker-Pope said. “A hobby may be inspired by an interest, but it typically requires more commitment and involves taking action, like learning a new skill, or collecting, building, or creating something.”
For senior Maggie Whitham, founder of @meta.magnolia, she had spent most of her life creating, according to her, “more traditional” art, from pencil drawing to acrylic painting.
Inspired by this steadfast interest, she decided to venture out beyond the orthodox mold led to her current hobby: making and selling her own jewelry on Etsy since last year.
“I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember, ever since I was young,” Whitham said. “As I got into college, I wanted to branch [out]…and I had a lot of time during the [COVID-19] pandemic and I thought…let me just try making some jewelry…[and] it’s been a nice, creative outlet.”
By establishing where your interests lie, and how much you are willing to put in the effort and work to bring those interests to life, you can ultimately turn that lifelong passion into a hobby you can actively participate in — and continue to learn from throughout the process.
Learn how to make free time — and use that time wisely
Depending on how many hours you spend working on numerous daily activities, such as working, caregiving, chores, and personal care, for some, it can be difficult to allot for some free time during a busy schedule.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many have dedicated any downtime they might have to, according to Parker-Pope, “doing mindless things like checking email and social media, and clicking around the internet, [and] sometimes, we just do nothing.”
“Finding time for hobbies in your day means being more thoughtful about how you spend the time you have,” Parker-Pope said. “When you do have downtime, do you crash and do nothing? Or do you use that time for things you love?”
To make free time, create an outline of what your week looks like, and continue to ask yourself how much time you dedicate to each activity listed in your routine. From there, schedule a certain amount of time for your chosen hobbies, just like you would with virtual Zoom meetings with professors or fellow students during the semester.
By balancing work and free time, you will not only have enough time to practice your selected hobbies, but also to have some fun along the way.
Always be seeking inspiration
If you’re still trying to figure out which hobbies are best for you, take a deep breath and search for what inspires you the most towards making that interest into a pastime.
According to Parker-Pope, “one of the first places to look for inspiration” lies within your past — specifically, within your childhood.
“Think about what pursuits made you happy as a child: did you take lessons in dance, music, ice skating or art? Did you play a sport? Did you love to draw, paint, take part in theater, or write poems?” she said. “All of these childhood pursuits can be turned into adult hobbies.”
For Whitham, in addition to using the natural environment as a collective muse to power her creativity, she said her lifelong fascination with art as allowing her to venture out of her comfort zone, and further ignited a deeper appreciation for the craft.
“I think art has [helped] gotten me through the pandemic,” she said. “I’ve always been the kind of person who would sit down and do a painting for 10 hours straight and just get so hyper focused on it. It’s very therapeutic to have something to do with my hands.”
Whitham’s other current and other hobbies, which include hiking, journaling, running, and playing the piano, have also helped her to broaden her horizons and explore all different aspects of life, all amid a widespread pandemic.
“I’ve liked the outdoors, but I’ve never been one to spend hours and hours [outside], but [with hiking] that opened a different side of myself where I’m just more comfortable being outside,” she said. “[Journaling] brought me back to my younger self…and it was really comforting to have that, and it made me appreciate my artistic side more.”
You can also scan through other activities you would do during that allotted free time, as they can help spark the initial interest that leads to a wide range of hobbies to choose from.
“Conduct your own personal time-use survey to take a closer look at your interests: do you spend a lot of time reading books? Cooking? Spending time outdoors? Shopping for clothes? Watching old movies? Playing with your dog?” Parker-Pope said. “All of these activities hold clues for potential hobbies.”
Whatever you find or consider to be inspiring to you, chances are that it could lead to a great interest — and further lead to an interesting hobby.
Find what works for you — and stick with it
According to Vox reporter Hope Reese, while it can be tempting for many to take up hobbies that best suit your “fantasy self,” it is more ideal to stick with hobbies that best work for you.
“One of the first mistakes people make when starting a hobby is choosing something aspirational, rather than something they’ll actually enjoy,” Reese said in 2019. “Instead, find something that works for you…if you already like cooking, try taking your skills up a notch, and sign up for a basic pastry class. If you enjoy writing, try a fiction workshop.”
For students on the Washington College campus, you can join a student-led club or organization that further reinforces your interest and allows you to make the time to further build your skills and collaborate with those who also share an appreciation for that activity. For example, if you like going green, join the Campus Garden or the Composting Team. If you’re the kind of person who likes arts-related activities, join Musicians’ Union, Photography Club, or WACapella.
If you’re determined to try an entirely new hobby, it’s recommended you start off small.
“Let’s say rock climbing sounds exciting, but you’ve barely ventured into the city park. Try a local climbing gym or do a moderate hike outdoors,” Reese said. “Taking small, measured steps in developing habits, and hobbies, is critical. They keep it manageable and make it feel less like work.”
While attempting to start anew or revamp an old hobby can be intimidating, it’s important to keep in mind that perfection is not the objective here; as long as you continue to put in heart and soul into your respective pastimes, the experience can be both enjoyable and rewarding.
“My biggest advice is to create…without the expectation of it being perfect,” Whitham said. “Who cares if it turns out ‘bad’; that’s just a standard we put in place. Anything is art, and anything can be beautiful [and] I think creating something is more important than the final result.”
Featured Photo caption: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are taking new hobbies — here’s how students can pick up a few of their own. Photo by Izze Rios.