How Hobbies Can Reduce Stress in MS

Health Writer
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Many people with MS say that stress exacerbates symptoms like fatigue and pain. Although there is no research that definitively links stress with MS symptoms, according to psychologist and MS expert Fred Foley, Ph.D., author of the National MS Society’s Taming Stress in Multiple Sclerosis, there is also no question that reducing stress can help you to better cope with your illness. Here’s how having a hobby can help your mental health.

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Hobbies can be calming

Beyond solutions like exercise and meditation, research consistently shows that having a hobby can be stress-reducing. And in people with chronic illnesses like MS, studies conducted in the U.S. and Ireland have reported that hobbies can help you cope and feel more satisfied with life, give you a more positive feeling about yourself, and fill a void in your life if you can’t hold a job anymore. Hobbies also distract you from your worries.

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You don’t have to be an artist to be crafty

A study from Drexel University found that 45 minutes of drawing a day can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making you feel calmer. Other research from the same group reveals that making art activates the reward pathway in the brain and produces feelings of pleasure. What’s more, you don’t even have to produce good art to get the rewards (so forget the excuse that you’re not artistic — it’s the act of making that is beneficial, not the result).

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Crafting can empower you

For Michelle Keating, R.N., M.S.C.N., a nurse in St. Louis, MO, and founder of the nonprofit organization MS Bright Spots of Hope, crafts are definitely a great stress-reducer for people with MS (including herself), but they also give people a sense of empowerment that they are more than their MS. “They think that because of their disability they can’t do much of anything anymore, but hobbies show them they can,” she says. “Hobbies give them a sense of hope that they can still enjoy life.”

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Groups are good

Keating established a Creative Art Program in 2011 in the St. Louis area for people with MS, which has been extremely popular. The group engages in crafts like watercolor painting, collaging, adult coloring, beading, making jewelry, and quilting. She has developed a similar program for an MS Cruisers yearly sailing to the Caribbean.

“Doing a craft in a group setting has added benefits because you can talk and laugh, which makes it even more enjoyable,” she says.

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Hobbies have physical benefits, too

Studies have shown that there are tangible physical benefits of crafting, including a reduction in blood pressure and an increase in feel-good brain chemicals known as endorphins.

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Give it a try: adult coloring

It’s hard to go into a craft store or bookstore today without seeing adult coloring books. That’s because coloring is easy to do and inexpensive — requiring no more than just the printed drawings and colored pencils or pens — and very calming. And because you buy templates to color in, you don’t have to fret if you don’t draw well. Popular titles include Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford and Color Me Stress-Free by Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter.

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Give it a try: journaling

You can journal freeform by hand or on a computer, writing about life events, your emotions, or personal stories you want to pass on. Or you can  use a guided journal such as The Me Journal: Becoming the Best Version of Yourself by Maria Elena Misito. It offers prompts like “Is something upsetting you?” and “You can and you will.”

“Journaling helps you make sense of certain experiences in your life,” Misito writes, “and when done consistently, it will improve your mood and reduce stress levels.”

Nancy Monson

Give it a try: Zentangle drawing

The Zentangle technique was developed by artists Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts and has been adopted internationally as a stress reliever and enjoyable pastime. It is a structured drawing practice that is relaxing and fun and that doesn’t require any artistic experience. The technique looks complicated, but once you learn the steps to draw the “tangles” on paper tiles, you can create beautiful pieces of art.

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Do hobbies anytime

All of these activities—adult coloring, journaling, and Zentangle drawing — can be great for helping you relax before bedtime so you can sleep well. Or they can be used any time you are feeling tense to help you unwind and feel calmer.

The key to using hobbies and crafts as stress-relievers is to do them regularly. That’s how you’ll get the greatest benefit and the most enjoyment!