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“What are your hobbies?” Many people can easily give answers to this question – crocheting, pottery, fishing, gardening, bird watching or whatever appeals to them. But for others, no acceptable answer seems to come to mind.

“Often, labels like the word ‘hobby’ can tend to evoke anxiety in us,” Bari Schwarz, a psychotherapist based in New York and Charleston, South Carolina, told HuffPost. “We can panic or freeze when we are put on the spot to respond with confidence to what makes us happy. ‘Why can’t I think of anything?’ ‘Are my hobbies counted as hobbies?’ ‘Am I somehow missing in their minds?’

It’s not abnormal to feel like you don’t have any hobbies or that your personal interests don’t count as real hobbies. In this age of stress and burnout, the idea of ​​having free time to pursue your passions may seem like a distant fantasy.

So is it time to take the pressure off the hobby idea? Or maybe redefine what the word means to us today? Below, Schwarz and other psychology experts share their thoughts and advice.

What is a hobby?

“A hobby is basically an activity that one enjoys in one’s free time,” Schwarz said. “So instead of feeling the pressure to list hobbies, if we were to just ask ourselves, ‘What do I enjoy or enjoy doing?’ I think people would be surprised how much easier it is to answer.

Hobbies don’t have to be “productive” or involve specific benchmarks for improvement or progress (although that’s perfectly fine if yours does).

“Someone once asked me in an interview what my hobby was, and I told them to travel,” said Sue Varma, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “They said, ‘Well, it’s not really a hobby. But for me, it is. I love to learn, explore, enjoy ― and feel rewarded. I am immersed in it, I grow from it. For me, traveling is a hobby, and I do it intentionally. I practice it and I put thought and effort into it. Am I improving? Maybe not, but there’s really nothing you can do to improve.

She believes in expanding our definition of a hobby to “what brings us meaning and joy”. Learning something new or improving in a skill would just be an added bonus.

In our work-oriented ‘bustle culture’, remember that your hobby doesn’t have to be something you can turn into a ‘side-hustle’, like selling the sweaters you knit on Etsy .

“It’s helpful to identify things and activities that give you pleasure or recovery during downtime, but they don’t have to be things traditionally considered hobbies to have the same impact. psychologically positive,” said Meg Gitlin, a New York-based psychotherapist. . “Maybe it’s enjoying a TV show at the end of the day or taking a walk.”

Instead of feeling pressured to promote an appropriate hobby in the eyes of others, think about activities that give you pleasure and make you want to take care of yourself.

She proposed the definition of a hobby as “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure” and encouraged people to consider how a certain activity or interest could enhance their daily lives by helping them to relax, for example.

“I think the traditional concept of a hobby (i.e. painting, gardening) is great, but it’s also a luxury for most people,” Gitlin noted. “With increasingly longer workdays and the demands of everyday life, many people lack the bandwidth to dedicate time to what is traditionally considered ‘a hobby’.”

Indeed, it is more difficult to find the opportunity to take dance lessons or practice the saxophone if you hold several jobs, you have trouble finding reliable childcare and you are always trying to feed your family with food stamps. Having hobbies is, in many ways, a privilege.

Why do we feel so much pressure around hobbies?

“I think we live in a very comparative society, and people feel like their lives are ‘not enough,'” Gitlin noted. should recognize all that we are already doing and take a thoughtful, pragmatic approach when considering how we can use our free time as a restorative.”

Just as we compare our clothes, our bodies, our homes, and our parenting experiences to what we see on Instagram, the things we do for fun have also become material for comparison. From awesome craftsmanship to epic baked goods to wild rock climbing feats, there are countless images of people showing off their hobbies and pushing them to the limit.

“I think the traditional concept of a hobby (i.e. painting, gardening) is great, but it’s also a luxury for most people.”

– Meg Gitlin, New York-based psychotherapist

“I think we live in a world where everyone has their own hobbies displayed on social media, so not being able to name one quickly can make something feel different about you,” said Rachel Thomasian, licensed therapist and owner of Playa Vista. Consultation in Los Angeles.

“It’s okay if you love to cook and your hobby is practiced while you cook dinner each night and nothing more. Where I challenge and push my clients is when I notice the anxiety or depression prevents them from enjoying activities and connecting with others.

What others consider a hobby or not need not dictate what we decide to do with our precious free time. Yet we still feel a societal expectation around this very personal aspect of life.

“I think people feel pressure for the same reasons that we generally feel as a whole; because we want to fit in and feel valued by our peers,” said Alfiee Breland-Noble, an Arlington, Va.-based therapist and founder of the AAKOMA Project. “Sometimes that means we yearn to accept the same things as others, even when we’re not quite sure whether or not the ‘thing’ we yearn for is really right for us.”

She pointed out that identifying something as a hobby is quite relative.

“We should never feel like we have to conform to someone else’s standard for who we are or what we value,” Alfiee added. “Also, there’s no standard that all people have to adhere to that require them to have a hobby, so in my opinion it’s perfectly fine not to have a hobby.”

Remember that what brings you joy doesn't have to be something you turn into a side hustle.

Olga Rolenko via Getty Images

Remember that what brings you joy doesn’t have to be something you turn into a side hustle.

How can we overcome this feeling of pressure?

“I just recommend taking a step back and appreciating that what we do to take care of ourselves is something that we get pleasure from on a personal level and therefore falls into the category of hobbies,” Schwarz said. . “Whether it’s painting and ceramics or just a walk on your own or an exercise class.”

Think about the things you do to promote a work-life balance, whether that’s going to wine tastings, watching movies and TV shows, or trying new restaurants with friends.

“Treat yourself with a little grace, stop comparing yourself to others, and realize you love things,” Schwarz said. “No one’s ‘hobby’ is better than another’s. It all comes down to what makes you relax and what makes you find that work-life balance.

Rather than assessing the value of a given hobby or whether something counts as a hobby, simply ask yourself what activities or qualities make you feel good and lean into them. And remember, it’s perfectly fine to be “bad” at your favorite hobby.

“I like to ask people to list everything they do in a week that isn’t part of work, then rank those things from most enjoyable to least enjoyable and think about what they would like do something else or do more things.” “, said Thomasian. “I also believe that personal growth occurs by engaging in new activities, so I am a firm believer [in] stretch, but not out of shame or force.

“I’m less interested in whether or not people have hobbies, but more in healthy distractions to help them disconnect from everyday stress.”

– Sue Varma, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Hobbies that involve more presence and participation can be particularly helpful in reducing stress, but finding what works for you is a matter of trial and error. Also don’t worry if you feel you can’t commit to a specific hobby. There is value in picking things up for a while and putting them down.

“I’m less interested in whether or not people have hobbies, but rather do they have healthy distractions to help them disconnect from everyday stress and have good coping skills so that they don’t turn to substances or unhealthy way of coping? Varma noted.

So don’t dive into a hobby just for fun. Take the opportunity to do things that make you feel good.

“I would tell people the same thing I tell my patients, that your guide should always be your internal compass and your reflective insight,” Alfiee said. “If we can take the time to think carefully about what makes sense to us, then we will always ensure that the choices we make reflect our individual values ​​and desires, which makes those choices much better for us.”

“And who knows us better than we know ourselves? she added. “Ideally nobody, so what others think about our choices should always be secondary to what we believe and know about ourselves.”