Using a Hobby to Manage Stress

Stress. Anxiety. Depression. These are killers. Surveys show they are increasing, spreading like a virus. Our growing sense of overwhelm and uncertainty is driven by world events, social isolation, and our increasingly complex world.

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With all the tumult in the world these days more and more of us are feeling overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, uncertainty, confusion and the numbing mental fog that results from endless stress.

Now our patrons have been sharing strategies that they use to reduce or even eliminate stress and some are familiar you know, regular sleep, better diet, exercise, being out in nature is a big one. The one that really surprised me was the number of people who use a hobby to manage their stress, they found a pastime that provides relief and perspective on the world, it’s it’s recharging.

When I mentioned my go-to stress buster is model railroading a number of patrons asked to see it, all right since all of my videos are answers to patrons requests here we go.

Welcome to 1958, this is a small city, a place with lots of industry and lots of rail traffic. Now this might seem like an odd hobby for someone who has trouble with attention, follow-through, impatience, and distraction, and yes this may seem trivial or frivolous to you but for me for half a century it’s been a kind of meditative touchstone and it’s a different kind of hyperfocus than when I’m writing or performing, in fact when I’m writing comedy my mind is busy imagining scenes and dialogue and complications, it’s all happening up here. I actually look like I’m hypnotized. If it’s really funny, okay if I think it’s really funny, I have this slightly manic grin.

Using a Hobby to Reduce Stress
This is different, this demands I be here, be present, focused on every brush stroke, over and over and over, each knife cut, it may sound paradoxical, how can a hobby that requires precision and patience be relaxing? In fact it doesn’t so much require patience rather it draws me into a state of patience, being very present, focused on exactly what I’m doing, it absorbs me, I suppose a bit like a candle providing focus for a meditating monk, maybe that’s stretching it.

You may shudder at the thought of model railroading as I shudder at the thought of golf but for me it’s a kind of relaxation therapy and it’s not unlike yin yoga which I adore.

Gardening, which I help out with or walking in nature it’s almost the antithesis of writing for television, here there’s no deadline, no delivery date whereas if I want to revise and improve a script with a great new gag and a way better punchline, too late it’s been shot, edited, broadcast.

There’s no audience here except me, although friends visit and everyone’s gobsmacked, there’s no cast and crew to coordinate and work with and I’m constantly able to edit, to improve, to add, the mistakes are correctable and this is full of mistakes but I work at my own speed, as I say no deadlines. It’s quiet, no calls, no requests, no push notifications, the silence is lovely and yet I find having something playing in the background helps me with focus. Usually I just put on a documentary that i’ve seen before and I half listen, well quarter listen, well a 20th listen.

Another difference is that unlike writing this is physical and it’s slow but it’s instantly rewarding, I mean I write a funny skit and it’ll be weeks or months before an audience sees it in the studio and then weeks or months before it’s broadcast, here the positive feedback is instant, unlike the laughter it’s always here.

As well I’m in charge so I can express my own vision, no studio executive saying you should make the husband more likeable, or ah don’t worry about it it’s good enough, people won’t know the difference between an outside brace box car with arch bar trucks and a steel box car with Andrew’s trucks, i’ll know, i’ll know.

So I get to set my own standard, I may not be hyper focused when I retreat to down here but it doesn’t take me long to slow down, to relax and slip into the zone, zoned in rather than zoned out. Zoned out for me is an endless spiral of random irrelevant, inappropriate, useless and even anxiety inducing hubbub, or lost in time wasters the ones that just put my life on pause, scrolling lost in a passive state of semi-amusement by things I’m never going to remember.

Nothing wrong in moderation but somedays I am shocked at how much time I spend online and that’s time I realized that I could be actively de-stressing, actually doing nothing, or unwinding by doing some exercise, doing some chores, going for a walk with my wife, sitting outdoors in the yard watching the birds and the wild rabbits, or here doing this.

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