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Stress needn't be a heavy weight: A personal journey in mental wellbeing.

by Paul Maker

It’s Sunday evening and the kids aren’t killing each other (always a bonus!). I’ve got some spare time and a glass of wine, so I thought I’d pen a little blog about my hobbies, or ‘my fads,’ as my mates like to joke. In fact, these fads have earned me the nickname Paul ‘The Fad’ Maker to much ridicule over the years.

And they’ve been some good ones. Like that time my wife came home from work to find me clutching a spade, standing in a four-foot hole I’d dug spontaneously in the back garden. The Koi pond was admittedly a little left-field, but it was a slow day working from home and...well, a man’s got to entertain himself somehow. Having spent many years putting up with my random fads, she simply stared at me and said - “What do you fancy for dinner, Paul?” Or that other time my wife came home to find a track racing car parked in the garage. Or when I decided to nail a commercial hand dryer to our kitchen wall so I could dry the dishes. Or when I got back into weightlifting which I’d done on and off since I was eighteen.

So, why do I do these fads? I’ve always liked a hobby and it’s in my nature to do things in a fairly extreme fashion. But there’s definitely a method to the madness. I’m not really into competitive team sports and for me all my hobbies have been solo pursuits, something that’s mine that I can control entirely. It’s that small slice of time where I can forget about all my other commitments and focus only on a personal goal. I’ve never experienced depression, touch wood, and I think one of the reasons is that my hobbies help me manage stress and give me moments of clarity that help balance me out.

The idea for a hobby often comes out of the blue, but there’s definitely a process to the whole thing.

First, I do a lot of research and get educated about whatever I’m interested – whether that’s fishing or weightlifting or cars. Then I won’t do anything about it for months, until one day suddenly I’ll pick up a spade and dig a giant hole in the back garden. After that, I like setting clear and methodical goals I stick to.

Take weightlifting, for example. For me, weightlifting has gone through a few guises; powerlifting – which is trying to lift very heavy things once and going like a beetroot in the process, strongman – which is lifting heavy awkward things whilst growing a beard, and bodybuilding – which is basically trying to look a little less like a beetroot and a little more like Arnie. I love it because it’s so simple to set goals. If I want my body to look a certain way, I can engineer my diet and do certain exercises at the gym. If I want to get super strong, I know exactly what to do. I work out five times a week and I won't lie, I feel so pumped and buzzed after a session. It’s all about iterating and listening to your body until you find exactly what works for your genetic makeup. Sometimes I’ll try some stuff, for instance I’ll do particular lifts if I want to get my arms big. If that doesn’t work I’ll try some new things until I get incremental progress. Not to forget the big one – weightlifting gives me some flexibility with my diet, which decoded means that I can enjoy a beer and a pizza without worrying about it.

For me though, the real magic of weightlifting is that personal time – that time you’ve given to yourself to forget about work and family issues, and just be absorbed in the moment. I’ve had some of the best moments of clarity in the gym. When you have 400lbs across your shoulders it’s pretty damn hard to think about your problems, least of all my nemesis, Steve’s ‘Microsoft Exchange Connector.’ Yet I’ll finish the set and boom! There’s the answer, clear as day. How does that happen? I don’t know. Maybe it’s your subconscious uncluttering your mind from the noise.

For me though, the real magic of weightlifting is that personal time – that time you’ve given to yourself to forget about work and family issues, and just be absorbed in the moment.

So here’s what I’m saying. It doesn’t matter if it’s cake decorating, horse-riding (which incidentally I tried to do but my local riding school said I was four stone too heavy), or archery (which is on my list). What matters is that you have something that’s yours, that you control and you can set your goals around. Some time for you, that you can feel good at. It’s not selfish. It’s the key to balance and in turn it’ll pay out in spades both at home and at work. Make yourself feel good about yourself, and this’ll have a positive impact on other areas of your life.

Anyway, that’s all from me. I’m going to feed my two rabbits and maybe make some homemade beef burgers.

If you’re looking for mental health resources, you might like to check out some of the following options:

  • For Aiimi staff, don’t forget you can make use of our free, confidential Health Assured service for resources, advice and counselling
  • Mind –
  • Samaritans –
  • Time to Change –

Read the other posts in our Personal Journeys in Mental Wellbeing series:

Speaking My Mind by Steve Salvin

Stressed Out by Tom O'Farrell

Working Mum by Charlotte Richmond

Happiness Is Not Success by Ben Sprague

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