Chronic pain affects all aspects of life - work, social and your hobbies.
In many cases, the first thing that gets dropped as we try to manage our pain and keep functioning, are our hobbies.
Many people, not just chronic illness sufferers, prioritise work and social gatherings above any hobbies, ignoring the positive health impacts that a hobby provides.
It’s extremely important to have interests and hobbies to look forward to and enjoy.
In fact, the Nottingham Health Profile, a measure of the quality of life of chronic pain patients, has one section devoted to hobbies.
To improve our quality of life, we need to have enjoyable hobbies, even with our pain.
A happier brain feels less pain
When we take pleasure in a hobby, the brain releases a selection of chemicals that balance out the pain signals and reduce anxiety - serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
Repetitive hobbies like crochet or knitting are a form of mindfulness meditation, distracting our minds by following a pattern and counting, and thus releasing us from worry and tension.
Meditation lets us better manage our pain, and physically creating something provides a sense of accomplishment (more positive brain chemicals).
Hobbies can double as therapy
Artistic hobbies can make you more resilient, improve mental health, and develop a social support network, although there are some risks of repetitive injuries (which can be mitigated), according to a recent study in the British Medical Journal.
Art therapy is used a lot when dealing with PTSD and chronic pain, especially in the initial stages where anger and grief needs to be released and processed.
Even if you aren’t an artist, drawing, painting or scrapbooking can help release the anger at losing control of your body and your life.
→ The PainWave radio show Can the arts ease your chronic pain has an excellent discussion about how art and hobbies encourage mindfulness, increase happiness, and can also reduce pain.
Music therapy and colouring in an outlined picture is more positive - this brings happiness and joy, releasing those positive brain chemicals. Performing music lets us be in the moment, similar to knitting and crochet, and lets us escape the constant barrage of thoughts and worries about our pain.
Journalling privately can help us deal with pain and illness, loss and anger. You also get good feelings from helping others when you blog or publish articles online.
Running ultra marathons, playing tennis or doing kung fu may no longer be possible when you have developed a chronic illness.
Rock climbing, head banging at metal concerts, or even long distance travelling may be out of the question.
In high school, I had to give up playing wind instruments, violin and tennis as the costochondritis would not go away. More recently, I’ve had to cut back on gardening, cooking and drop piano playing as a new wrist problem surfaced. So frustrating!
Finding a new interest or modifying an existing hobby is emotional - we need to learn our new physical limitations, grieve the loss of our favourite hobbies or abilities, and move on to finding something new to enjoy.
Adjust existing hobbies
- If standing and painting is impossible, look at getting a tilted desk or a fully adjustable easel that you can angle to reduce pain in the neck and back.
- Use a stool or chair when cooking, woodturning, or other hobbies that are normally done standing.
- Get some raised, no dig gardening beds built to reduce the amount of bending required.
- Look into ergonomic crochet hooks - they are great for rheumatic hands.
- Use a brace around sore joints.
- Switch to lighter camera gear, or get a hand strap for support.
- Use the speech-to-text programs that are now standard in most operating systems - speak instead of typing.
- Buy an adjustable stand (floor or bed) for embroidery, tapestry, cross stitch and hand quilting.
I love my needlework frame (similar to this FA Edmunds stand), which I use both standing up and on the couch when I need to keep my legs up.
Find a new low-impact hobby to enjoy
- Crafting: crochet, knitting, sewing, scrapbooking, jewellery making, origami,
- Arts: drawing, painting, colouring in, zentangle, photography, photo editing,
- Health and relaxation: meditation, tai chi, gentle yoga, walking
- Learn something new: there are many free courses on all sorts of topics available online, including university courses. Learning a language is great for keeping the mind healthy as we get older!
- Music: play simpler and slower pieces, switch instruments so it’s easier on the body, sing, or listen to your favourite music.
- Read: a lot!
- Write: a private journal, a public blog, articles online, poetry, short stories or novels - writing is a good distraction, and can be a form of therapy.
- Do puzzles: cross words, sudoku, word finds, solve riddles, or do jigsaw puzzles.
- Play games: board games, computer games, word games and card games.
What other hobbies with chronic pain are there?
What are your favourite hobbies that you can do when ill or in pain?
Have you had to drop some of your interests?