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Too much stress and uncertainty right now? It’s totally a-okay if all you want to do some days is eat Ben and Jerry’s. But, when you’re not doing your best Bridget Jones impersonation, getting sucked into a new project could actually be just what you need to keep your mental health in check.
While hobbies are great for passing the time, they’ve also been shown to have mental wellbeing benefits —such as boosting self-esteem, distracting from negative thoughts and lowering stress levels. More specifically, they help us enter specific emotional states. If you’re stressed, for example, then pounding some dough as you prepare a loaf of bread can be a great antidote; while feelings of achievement can be spurred on as you tackle a particularly tricky crossword.
So whether you’re in need of some calm, a positivity boost, stress relief, or just a bit of self-love, we’ve rounded up 20 different projects to support you through all points of life’s emotional rollercoaster. And, as an added bonus, they can all be done in the comfort of your own home, at little cost, and with no previous know-how required.
Our emotions and food are as intrinsically linked as Tom is with Jerry. Perhaps scents of spices trigger happy memories of your favorite curry house, or you associate baking with precious moments spent at grandma’s. Spoons in pots stir more than just ingredients — so get into the kitchen for some tastebud-approved therapy.
Find your jam
When you’re feeling low, chances are you reach for something sugary to lift your spirits — and there’s nothing sweeter to encourage a cheerier mood than homemade jam.
With no fancy equipment and only a few ingredients required, you can create a range of flavors, pair it with lots of things, store it away… you get the drift. Find out more about this comfort food here, along with an easy recipe to try.
Bake away your inner storm
Feeling anxious? Kneading dough or beating a gooey batter mix can help work those stresses out of your system — with delicious results. Cookies and cupcakes are easy makes for newbies, while pros could turn their hand to bread shapes.
Either way, we all love to make things simpler, and we’ve lined up some great baking hacks here.
Pickle for pride
They’re small, but mighty, and making pickles can boost your sense of pride. How? Each time they’re served with a dish you’ll be reminded of your accomplishment, while their longevity means they can be proudly toted to dinner parties post-social distancing.
Grab some empty jars, vinegar, veggies and a few other cupboard ingredients, then check out our pickling 101 for the full lowdown.
Nuggets of love
If the prospect of creating gyoza from scratch fills you with fear, it’s time to reframe your thinking. Dumplings of all kinds are often made by families and friendship groups as a bonding activity, with hearty doses of care and attention mixed in.
Cook dumplings with loving intention to show yourself some TLC, even if you’re on your own — and to try these recipes, all you’ll need is a rolling pin and a few easy-to-buy supermarket ingredients.
A drizzle of dressing can transform a dish — and making your own is a great way to express your mood through flavors. Many store-bought ones are packed with added sugars and preservatives, so you’ll also enjoy knowing exactly what’s gone into your own creations. Win-win.
A successful craft project is far from being just about the end product. The entire creative process whips up a host of emotions — from positivity and self-expression, to productivity and satisfaction — that will benefit your mental wellbeing for a long time to come.
A stitch of your own
Cross stitching is a great way to express yourself: There’s patterns to suit all moods and personalities, and each stitch (however inaccurate) is one only you can own.
This craft’s grid formulation makes it easy to pick up, and ready-made kits offer everything you need in one place. Cross Stitch Kits & Gifts offer every NSFW catchphrase you can possibly dream of, while the designs from Stitchering cover everything from “cute” to pop culture.
All our hands are feeling the effects of increased washing over the past couple of months, so delve into a new project to show them a bit of TLC.
Making your own hand cream is surprisingly straightforward, and doing so will bring a touch of luxury into your life while trips to the spa or salon aren’t an option. This basic recipe combines almond and coconut oils, while a honey base makes this recipe worth buzzing about.
Mold a connection
Sending handmade gifts in lieu of spending in-person time with loved ones is a great way to encourage all the fuzzy feels — and with polymer clay, you can make items from jewelry and magnets to keychains and cute figurines.
You’ll feel a sense of connection as you mold personalized shapes, while the lucky recipient will appreciate the extra care and attention that goes into a crafted present.
Into the fold
Folding airplanes helped pass time at school, but the Japanese art of origami takes paper crafts to another level. Learning the basics can take some concentration but, once you’ve got those nailed, the repetition of folding is calming and peaceful.
From frogs to elephants, completed shapes make great desk buddies — or thread them together to create a hanging mobile (which is also calming for adults, thanks). This book comes with beginner and advanced tutorials, along with origami papers.
Come into bloom
If you’re like us, then lounge pants and no makeup has been your official lockdown look. But we still miss moments of elegance, and flowers are an easy way to add a touch of grace to everyday life.
Press and frame some of your favorite blooms to harness these feelings for longer: you’ll only need a couple of heavy books and paper, or treat yourself to a reasonably priced kit. Once you’ve got everything lined up, this video reveals how to get started.
We all love a twofer, and there are plenty of activities you can do at home to build your skillset and your self-worth. By developing your arsenal of abilities, you’ll feel more confident, happy and resilient — all big wins for overall mental health.
Know the lingo
Zut alors! Embracing a new language will not only improve your brain’s ability to problem solve and multitask, but also help satiate your sense of curiosity at a time when we can’t explore new places in person.
Duolingo is the most popular free app, with over 30 different languages on offer, all broken down into bitesize stages for easy learning.
Get positively competitive
You’re also more likely to be productive if you’re having fun — so don’t feel guilty about reaching for the controllers. There’s a game for everyone to enjoy and, if Animal Crossing island life doesn’t take your fancy, Neopets is still around! See if you can dig up your old password or start a new account.
Be an emotional time traveler with photos
Being away from friends and family can feel very isolating, especially when it feels like days aren’t changing, but being a photographer can help with that. Not only do they help you appreciate your current surroundings, they can also be something to show off during awkward calls.
Get up-close with the petals of indoor plants or head into the garden to take photos of the stars. Create a scavenger hunt with a friend! If you need help with basics, this free course from Karl Taylor explains everything from exposure to composition — perfect for newbies and those looking to hone their knowledge.
Be a pencil pusher
If stick figures are currently all you can draw, we’ve got good news. It really is possible to learn how to sketch — and doing so could be just the ticket to help banishing feelings of sadness and despair, along with improving focus, resilience and memory.
Puzzle out the brain knots
The puzzles at the back of the paper aren’t just for killing time once you’ve finished reading the headlines (or cartoons).
Tackling these encourages a sense of accomplishment and sharpens your logic and number skills — valuable for all areas of daily life, from keeping on top of finances to decision-making. Without a newspaper? It’s easy to get puzzling online.
It’s tiring being stuck in the same rooms for weeks — but, with a few small changes, you can spruce up your home and help it feel like (almost) new surroundings. Making a big difference requires little-to-no kit, and we guarantee you’ll feel more energized and refreshed after.
Feel clean and clear
If you were awake in 2019, then you’ll likely have heard of an decluttering guru by the name of Marie Kondo — whose approach to minimising our belongings sparked a frenzy of activity in homes and goodwill stores.
Find out more about KonMari philosophy, and remember: Tackling one category of items at once (i.e. clothes, books, papers etc.) is more efficient than going through one room, or one cupboard at a time.
Find your happy
We get it: It can be super tough to think of the positives in life right now. So make it easier for yourself by creating a space in your home dedicated to photos of loved ones, pictures of your favorite places, and keepsakes from treasured moments that you can turn to when in need of a pick-me-up.
The bigger the better — so we love the concept of an entire happiness wall.
Grow, baby, grow
Even if you live in an eighth-floor studio apartment and the idea of having your own outdoor space is but a dream, you can still plant some seeds, watch them grow… and then eat your endeavors.
Be in charge of your flow
Raise your hand if you loved changing around your bedroom furniture as a kid? A bonus of adulting means you can do this how, and whenever, you want — and, by following the rules of feng shui, you can quickly add some much-needed harmony and good vibes to your rejuvenated space.
Luckily, we’ve got you covered if you need to know where to start.
Refurbish into a fresh new start
Whether finances or lockdown restrictions mean you’re unable to pick up the new coffee table or cabinet you just know would look perfect in your living room, a lick of paint can give an existing item a whole new lease on life.
Chantelle Pattemore is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She focuses on lifestyle, travel, food, health, and fitness.