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Hobbies and Mental Fitness

Has a hobby ever made a big difference in your happiness or ability to persevere during times of stress? Do you think having a hobby can help you be more mentally “fit?”

sculpture in a Santa Barbara office gardenA year ago I took a photography class at Santa Barbara City College. This month I won two separate small photo awards. No money or worldwide acclaim (or any acclaim, actually), but quite a boost to my self-esteem.

From last year to this has been quite a change, hasn’t it? Most of the past year was terrible, due to medical family issues that led to me being in charge of two people, but some of it was enjoyable and fulfilling because I took my camera with me everywhere I went.

library at nightAs a fitness pro, much of my writing and advice is geared toward the physical aspect of fitness, yet I also have my MA in systemic counseling because I find emotional fitness to be just as important and deserving of attention.

Technically, I’m at the beginning stages of my photo skills. I only last month learned how to use an external flash so I could start taking pictures at night. But that isn’t as important as the feeling I get from seeing myself as a photographer.

colorful office garden in downtownAt the age of 26 (I actually remember the specific moment), I decided to become a more optimistic person. I had always had a low opinion of myself, especially my looks, yet when I look back at photos of my younger self, I don’t understand how I could have been so hard on myself.

I researched the ways that CHOOSING how to view events shapes our health. It seems obvious, yet it really is true that where you focus is how you see the world. For example, if one bad thing happens in the day, do you think, “What a bad day,” or do you think, “What a bad PART of my day?”

palm trees in Santa BarbaraThe young me wouldn’t have taken up photography because I would have been afraid to fail at it. Words have always been my comfort zone, not pictures. But the middle-aged me didn’t mind being uncomfortable because I had a bigger goal – do something that might be fun, would be just mine, and could possibly help improve our blog. Instead of focusing on the fact that I was one of the oldest people in the class, or that many of the students knew how to use a DSLR (I didn’t even know what DSLR meant), or even that I had no idea whether my photos were good or terrible, I chose to focus on the fact that I was doing something that was mine, all mine.

abandoned warehouse in Santa BarbaraFor countless hours over the past year, I walked around taking pictures while waiting to give rides to family members who had doctor, therapy, job, rehab, school and all other manner of appointments. And I have gotten better from the practice. Not just better as a photographer, but better in a “zen” way. Having something that’s just mine, and some time that’s just mine is so important. Even more so during times of prolonged stress. Passive activities such as watching TV or reading a book don’t give me the same feeling of accomplishing or creating something tangible.

Tamrac Anvil Camera BagWhat hobby do you have that puts the You back into You, especially during difficult times. What calms your mind?

Abandoned-shopping-cart-1

stairs at Hendry's Beach in Santa BarbaraOh, as to the two photos that were noticed, the shopping cart was taken with my Canon, while the stairs at Hendry’s Beach was my iPhone. And the photo of me wearing my Tamrac Anvil photo gear backpack was taken by my photo professor Say Dempsay. See how she knows how to use lighting perfectly? I’m working on that. I want to give a shoutout to Tamrac because they were the first photo brand to recognize me as a professional photographer (I have my photos for sale in Alamy Stockhouse, FYI). I will stick with Tamrac because they valued my photo skills enough to send me the Anvil backpack for all my gear (including the zoom and macro lenses on my Christmas wish list).

by Alexandra Williams, MA

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