Like a lot of people during the pandemic, I faltered a little bit during the first few weeks.

Even before the pandemic, I was living a pretty isolated lifestyle. My cat of 19 years had recently passed away, and I didn’t really have anyone to spend time with. In the early days of the pandemic, I was one of those people who took things pretty seriously , even when other people seemed to dismiss the virus altogether. I remember being the only person wearing a mask on the bus and hearing other commuters snicker behind my back.

Then, when things got worse and the lockdowns started, all of a sudden it felt like it wasn’t even safe to go outside anymore. For a while, I was worried that just by being outside I would somehow get infected with a deadly disease. To be fair, we didn’t really know too much about the virus at that point, and I guess it kind of made sense to be somewhat overly cautious. But for someone who was already struggling a bit, those early days were rough.

I know I’m not the only one who experienced serious anxiety during the pandemic, especially the initial days and weeks of uncertainty and isolation, but I’d also venture to guess I’m not alone in what came next. I vividly remember the day I looked across my small, one-bedroom basement suite and thought to myself “well… what am I going to do now?”

Finding Purpose, Joy in a Hobby

After a few days of inaction, I started to think about various hobbies that I could get into. After all, with so much time on my hands, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something constructive and interesting that could take my mind off all the negativity and scary headlines. The only challenge was figuring out what I was going to do. Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to make my decision, because there has always been a gnawing desire at the back of my mind to reignite one of my old passions: painting model soldiers.

Painting model soldiers was something I did at a very early age. That being said, there have been long stretches of time – years even – where I’ve abandoned this hobby altogether. Although I may have let my models gather dust in a forgotten shoebox, I never forgot the incredible sense of joy this simple act provided. There is something truly meditative about it. Carefully painting the details on tiny plastic miniature figures forces me to focus on one task and forget about everything else. It’s a wonderful escape and gives me the mental break I need to be able to cope with everything 2020 has thrown at me and at the world.

I could go into detail about the types of models I paint, the various techniques I use, and the lore behind the particular tabletop game these models are meant for. But the type of hobby I enjoy isn’t really important. What matters is the feeling of achievement it provides for me, and I genuinely believe this hobby played an important role in helping me to get through the pandemic and cope with stress and isolation. It doesn’t matter what kind of hobby you choose; the goal here should be to commit to something constructive and truly satisfying..

I’m definitely not the only one who has dived headfirst into their hobbies during the pandemic. For many people, doing renovations on their homes represents a constructive, satisfying experience that they can occupy themselves with during this period. Why else would home hardware stores be so financially successful right now, when so many other businesses are failing?

Another great choice right now is to learn a language, a hobby that has given me all kinds of joy over the last few months. I love Ancient Rome, and I’ve always wanted to learn Latin. Thankfully, the internet allows us to learn pretty much anything these days, and all I needed to do was to download a language app and start practicing.

In just a few days, I was learning how to speak Latin sentences. Aside from giving me an amazing sense of accomplishment, this hobby is also helping me exercise totally new areas of my brain. As a freelance writer, I spend most of the day typing away in my native English tongue, so switching gears and learning Latin was extremely refreshing, and it made the days feel less monotonous. Research has shown that learning a second language is an amazing brain exercise, and it can even reduce the chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The Science Behind Hobbies

Not only does having a hobby or two just feel good, the data supports its mental health benefits. Experts specifically highlight the benefits of being creative during the pandemic. Unlike sitting in front of the TV or playing video games, hobbies force you to actually create something that you can be proud of. They’re fun, and they give us a bit of a break from the “real world.”

Hobbies may be especially helpful for elderly people living in nursing facilities or assisted living. One study found that seniors in nursing facilities and assisted living homes had healthier brains if they volunteered to mentor younger people.

But why is this so important during the pandemic? Research has shown that one of the biggest mental health issues that people face is the lack of certainty. It’s that feeling that we’re not really in control of our own lives anymore, and we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen two weeks or a month from now.

A hobby gives you back that sense of certainty and structure. For example, I know exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow: I’m going to work on my Latin, and I’ll probably try to finish painting a few more space goblins. And the day after that? I’ll continue building on what I’ve achieved. The process continues, and nothing can stop me from enjoying that sense of progress.

And, while you’re at it, why limit yourself to just one hobby? Experts have also suggested that the key to keeping things interesting during this period is to expose your brain to all kinds of different activities during the day. Start a journal, take care of your plants, learn how to knit… because why not? Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of having a hobby is the fact that you won’t be tempted to engage in less healthy behaviors to deal with boredom and depression, such as substance abuse or self-harm.

My advice to you is simple: Don’t get caught up in thinking about what kind of hobby you want to start during the pandemic. Just pick something, get started, and don’t look back. It’s the sense of accomplishment, structure, and progress that matter most. Good luck!