Hobby Burnout: When Leisure Activities Become Chores

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Before the era of COVID-19, hobbies were a way to relax and unwind each day. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans aged 15 to 64 spent an average of 5.19 hours per day on all leisure and sports activities in 2019. These leisure and sports activities include time spent socializing and communicating, watching television, relaxing and thinking, playing games, using the computer for leisure (excluding games), reading for personal interest and participating in sports, exercise and similar recreational activities.  

Now in November 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic’s visible effects on American society eight months underway, people are spending more time at home. This is because many leisure activities outside the home are closed or facing restrictions, such as restaurants and live theatre. Moreover, according to Stanford research, in June about 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full-time, thus freeing-up any time typically spent on a commute and adding to the amount of downtime in the day.  

To fill this extra time, Americans started looking for more hobbies. Whether it be cooking and baking because restaurants are closed or under restrictions, crafting as a creative outlet or growing a garden over the summer to avoid spending more time in a grocery store than necessary, these pandemic pastimes are helping to keep us entertained in an isolating world. And this seems like a good thing, right? It is! Hobbies are extremely healthy. They can relieve stress, increase patience by challenging us, boost confidence and self-esteem, eradicate boredom, add to our overall knowledge and are a way of bonding with other people that hold similar interests.  

But, as with anything, too much of a good thing can have some harmful effects. The biggest danger is that society’s pressure to be perfect applies to hobbies too, creating unrealistic expectations for every aspect of life. Leisure time activities meant to be relaxingly enjoyable can become chores very quickly if we think about them as a task to get done.  

Sometimes even activities that once brought you joy could make you frustrated. Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile via Pexels

Psychologist Christina Maslach, PhD, is a pioneering researcher concerned primarily with burnout and its three main components: overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism and detachment and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. And while burnout is typically associated with an overwhelming workload, these elements can manifest themselves into hobby burnout just as easily.  

If all of a sudden you no longer find interest in your hobbies, or the thought of working on one of your hobbies feels exhausting, or even if you feel apathetic towards activities that used to bring you joy and comfort, you’re likely experiencing hobby burnout.  

As mentioned before, hobby burnout is often a result of unattainable expectations. When we want our creative hobbies (such as sewing, painting or playing an instrument) to be perfect all the time, they become jobs instead, thus disrupting our work-life balance and leading to a higher chance of experiencing such burnout. Unsurprisingly, leisure activities that become work do more harm than good, adding to stress instead of relaxing us in such uncertain times. Hobby burnout is essentially perfectionism — our aims to master the activities we do for fun make us miss out on the fun entirely.  

It’s O.K. to have goals for yourself and to have goals for your hobbies. You can want to finish knitting a sweater (and actually follow through!) without it being detrimental to your mental health and physical state. The danger emerges when it feels like said sweater needs to be completed in a week, or one imperfect stitch makes the entire project seem like a waste of time. If we can find achievement in the doing of the hobby, rather than the completion of it, our sudden surplus of leisure time is beneficial after all.  

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