I've been kicking around this thought for a few weeks, but it really hit home yesterday while talking to a client who was experiencing significant stress at work. We were discussing various options he could take to cope with work, but the reality of it was, that the work environment was largely going to stay the same. It was beyond his control to create any change in the short to medium term. So we started to discuss his interests outside of work. And that's where we realised that developing meaning his passions outside of work can be a way to develop resilience to cope with stress at work.
We all have hobbies or interests that we partake in. What I'm advocating in this blog is to take that hobby to the next level by developing meaning in the activity. What that means is moving from a passive participant, to an active participant. Go beyond just merely engaging in the activity and develop more technical skills, or a deeper understanding. For example, I was discussing with a client her interests in music and we set the task of learning a more complicated song, outside of her repertoire. Further to that, we set the task of paying attention to the learning, the effort, the failures and success, the technical parts of learning that piece of music. For the client with work stress, we discussed further developing his interests in photography by setting up an Instagram page to showcase his photos and set challenges for himself. In this case, however, we discussed the importance of not focusing on 'likes' or 'hearts', but on what he gets out of the process and to journal the experience. For another client we discussed her interests in volunteering to improve the livelihoods of less fortunate children in third world countries.
By taking a hobby to the "next level", we are developing a sense of meaning and purpose. Developing a sense of meaning helps to protect us from symptoms of depression and anxiety (see my previous blog on this topic here). When we have all our eggs in one basket, like work, which takes up a lot of our time, it's easy to fall into despair and overwhelmed when things are not going well. For some of us, meaning can be developed in the work that we do. But for many, meaning has to developed outside of this context. In this way, we can develop resilience to stressful situation and create a clear break from the stress in our lives to engage in an activity that we thoroughly enjoy. Importantly, the outcome of the activity is not the be all and end all. You don't have to be "the best" at your passion. That's why I discourage focusing on 'likes' on social media. It's simply following through with a deeper level of participation that develops meaning. So, if you like photography, go take a course of photography to increase your knowledge. Meet up with other people who like photography and take photos together. Set yourself a goal to enter your photos in a competition (winning is not important). You'll find this will grow another side of your self, and from this develop resilience to cope with stress.