The thing about stressful times is that they have an excellent way of reminding us what’s really important in life. So many of us tend to get lost in the hustle and bustle of our daily routines, completely disregarding the things that make us happy. Saying things like “I’m too busy to meet with friends this weekend,” or “I’ll just skip my yoga class and chill,” are probably things we’re all guilty of from time to time. But in moments of crisis, it’s important to remember that it might just be our hobbies that will keep us sane.

The way we spend our free time has a huge influence on our mental health – in good times and bad. Psychologists have often pointed out the importance of having a hobby. In addition to helping us structure time and make new friends, hobbies are also important in combatting stress and offering a much-needed escape from the things weighing on us.

So, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced me into self-isolation, I decided to use the time to do more of the things I enjoy. And let me tell you, it certainly is working.

My new (old) work routine

Even though I’m stuck at home, I don’t have a free pass from my job. Anyone who’s ever done remote work knows the challenges it poses. In addition to making it difficult to balance work and life, suddenly changing settings can also bring on a dip in productivity and a feeling of restlessness.

So, the first thing I firmly decided on was to keep my professional routine as unchanged as possible. I still wake up at 6 a.m., have my cup of coffee, then do a 30-minute workout on my terrace. On the days I’m not working out, I spend time in the fresh air doing some light stretching. This is followed by breakfast, and I’m at my dining room table – my brand new workstation – by 8:30 sharp. I try to eat my lunch on my terrace, again, to get as much vitamin D and fresh air as possible in these times, then continue with my assignments until around 5 p.m. when I’m usually done with work.

Dedicating time to my favorite pastime

Once I’m done with work for the day, it’s finally time for some self-care. My favorite way to unwind is to cook. Even under regular circumstances, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so dedicating myself to cooking isn’t that different from what I’m used to.

What has changed is that now I have much more time to test new recipes. I have a sweet tooth, so I try to make myself a dessert to enjoy the next day during lunch. I was particularly proud of how I did with these Coffee Bean Rocky Roads that combine three of my favorite things: dark chocolate, coffee, and salted peanuts. The great thing about this recipe is that it’s easily adaptable, and you can use whatever you have around the house.

Other than making myself sweets, I also meal prep once a week to cut down on the time I take during lunch. I try to make my lunches simple and dense in vitamins and nutrients to keep myself in good shape. For dinner, I go with meals that are a bit more “extravagant” in that they take up more time to prepare. I’ve been experimenting with the spices and ingredients I’ve picked up while traveling throughout the years, and have managed to cook up some pretty impressive dishes.

Other things I do to manage stress

Another thing I have more time for at the moment is drawing. This is a hobby I was passionate about as a teenager but, unfortunately, haven’t had that much time to dedicate to in the past decade. The thing I’m finding, however, is that it’s a great way to combat anxiety. So far, I’ve experimented with creating a few original designs, as well as following a couple of tutorials on YouTube.

If you’re interested in taking a more serious approach to art, you should definitely check out the numerous courses on Skillshare. Note that not all classes are free, but if you opt for an annual membership, the cost will come down to less than your Netflix subscription, and you’ll have access to thousands of courses over a wide range of subjects.

Use this time to focus on yourself

Feeling stressed and anxious in uncertain times is a completely normal reaction to changing circumstances. But the one thing you can do now is to apply yourself to self-care and self-growth. Use this period wisely, dedicate it to doing the things you love, and focus on the things that bring you joy and a sense of calm. Whether that’s building with Legos or watching live streams from your favorite theatre, it’s entirely up to you. The main thing is that it relaxes you and makes you happy.