Mindful Hobbies for Coders: 3 Relaxing Activities to Boost Brainpower and Beat Burnout
Now, for something very different...
If you've been grappling with a coding bug for more than five hours, taking a break is imperative. While some individuals may find it helpful to step outside and breathe in some fresh air, others may not be able to shake off the obsessive thought process even after shutting down their computer. Sometimes, it's crucial to completely disconnect from the code to revisit it with a fresh perspective.
For those who struggle to switch off their minds when stuck on a problem, engaging in a different mental activity during a break can be a game-changer. Instead of zoning out with a cup of coffee, gazing into the distance while still analysing the troublesome for-loop, pursuing an alternative hobby can be the perfect solution.
So what are some good hobbies for the code-addled brain? Well, an interesting post in my course Slack workspace brought up a very interesting point. A lot of coders seem to be drawn to hobbies such as needlework and sewing. This wasn't something I had particularly thought about before, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense! Let's have a look at a few and how you can get started.
1. Knitting & Crochet
Knitting and crocheting seem to be very popular among programmers. Maybe it's the repetitive motions, the satisfaction of seeing something physical being created as you go, or the rules you need to stick to ensure it works out correctly.
Similarly to code, one small error can throw off all of your progress and sometimes you'll need to go back over your work and 'de-bug' it. Did you add an extra stitch? Did you drop a stitch? Did you use the wrong stitch?
You might be thinking; "if the point of this hobby is to take a break from being frustrated by bugs, why am I having to do it in this too?"
Well, sometimes focusing on a different 'bug' will make your coding issue all that bit clearer when you come back to it. It's similar, but at the end of the day, it's time away from a screen and is incredibly soothing.
I've listed both knitting and crochet together in this list as I feel they're both the same when it comes to patience, supplies and resources on getting started. There's a plethora of online resources for getting started with either craft; with a lot of supplies and tutorial makers covering both.
So, want to knit a sock during your 20-minute break? Want to crochet a mini GitHub Cat to give to your work colleague? Here are some links to help you get started.
If you're looking for some YouTube tutorials, for knitting I recommend:
2. Hand Embroidery & Cross Stitch
Cross stitch is a classic for helping unwind and switch off your brain. Like knitting and crochet, the repetitive motions, while also creating something solid, is incredibly therapeutic.
And the best thing about cross stitch? It's so easy to make your own patterns.
With Stitch Fiddle you can convert your favourite programming meme into a fully working cross-stitch chart.
Extending your coding humour to your crafts has never been easier.
I've grouped embroidery and cross stitching together like my first two crafts as they also use mostly the same supplies and a lot of resources that cover one will cover the other. I prefer hand embroidery to cross stitch.
Hand embroidery is more freehand and uses different stitching techniques to achieve different looks and textures. Cross stitch primarily uses just one stitch. Like pixel art? Cross stitch is a great way of making that into something physical.
While cross stitch might take less "brain power" due to the repetition, it's like knitting and crochet in the way that if you miss one stitch or count something wrong, you're going to have to undo your work and figure out where your 'bug' is.
Embroidery is a bit more forgiving in that sense. While you need to learn the different stitches, it's not counted, meaning if you place something in the wrong place you can just alter the rest of the design as you go.
I get bored with cross stitch as there's not a lot of variation, but it's excellent if you're tired and want to immerse yourself in something while still creating.
Embroidery is perfect if you want to have some flexibility and enjoy textures. You can use apps like Procreate and Canva to create custom embroidery patterns. Like cross stitch, it's super easy to bring your unique interests into your designs.
Some Youtubers I'd recommend are: Sarah Homfray - She covers hand embroidery, cross stitch, blackwork etc. Caterpillar Cross Stitch - She has an excellent video on getting started with cross stitch! You can see it here.
This pattern can be found here
Of course, I have to give Blackwork its own section. This is an amazing needlework craft that I like to describe as a cross between hand embroidery and cross stitch! Like hand embroidery but with more repetition? Like the structure of cross stitch but find it incredibly boring?
Blackwork might be for you.
I find Blackwork the absolute perfect balance between the two and it's my go-to for when I need a break from coding.
Blackwork itself is a pretty old type of craft, it was done in Tutor England, but the modern version of it opens you to so many possibilities. Using repeated geometric patterns as fills usually creates an incredible overall image. It's more forgiving than cross stitching if you make a mistake, and it offers so much variation, even if you buy a pre-made pattern. Changing colours, alternating how many strands of thread you use, every choice can make a pattern look completely different to how someone else has done it.
A few Stitch-A-Longs are on the go at the moment which perfectly shows what I mean by this. Hundreds of people are stitching the same pattern, however, by using different colours and threads, each version looks completely different!
As an example, here was the first initial choice for colours and threads for The Steady Thread's 2023 SAL.
Here, I (for some reason I now do not understand), had decided to use two different blues for my fills. I used two strands of thread as well, making the fill designs thicker. Then, I saw others use only one strand, and I preferred how it looked. What did I do? I removed weeks 1 - 7 and redid them in different colours with one strand!
A close-up of the change.
A full view of the project.
As you can see, I also decided to experiment with changing the border colour and thread amount for the leaves. I'm still undecided about this one, but the joy of blackwork is that it's easy to change if you don't like it!
Other Crafts Recommended
The crafts listed above are just the few I've had experience with, but there are so many more that programmers have found therapeutic! Some of these include:
- Lego (it's not just for kids, that stuff is amazing)
- Computer building
At the end of the day, being able to do something during your break from coding that exercises the mind while also providing relaxation and satisfaction is incredibly important.
Why do these things appeal to us as programmers, I wonder? A point mentioned in Slack was perhaps it's because, with these crafts, there's already a 'pre-built package of assets', like stitches, patterns etc. Or maybe it engages the same part of our brain that coding does?
Regardless, I and many others have found that giving ourselves time to craft helps reduce burnout and bring down stress levels caused by coding frustration. Self-care is essential when working on projects, and having some crafting time is a perfect way to ensure you give your brain the rest it needs.