Hobbies are the things we do to take back ownership of our time. It’s not something you have to do; it should be something you want to do. Not to mention, hobbies have a range of mental health benefits — from a sense of accomplishment to improved mood to redirecting negative thoughts.
Hobbies aren’t a replacement for getting help when you need it. They won’t magically fix mental health disorders. However, they are another tool in your belt that can help you manage your mental health and live the life you want. Let’s discuss why hobbies are worthwhile and which ones you should try.
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Why are hobbies good for mental health?
Hobbies make you feel good. They help you relax and unwind from your day, with the added benefit of lowering your stress levels and blood pressure. Hobbies can help ease existing depression symptoms and decrease your risk of developing depression by up to 30%.
Ways that hobbies improve your mental health:
- Improve neuroplasticity: According to the National Library of Medicine, neuroplasticity describes our brain’s ability to adapt its activity and structure by forming and using new synaptic connections. You can think of your brain as a big map — there are many ways to get to your destination, and sometimes you have to change which way you’re going. Hobbies and habits require you to form new neural pathways, which provide new reference points for the brain to recognize.
- Reduce stress: Many people use hobbies to decompress from stressful days. When you do something you like, you’re allowing your body to relax and cortisol levels to drop, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure while your mood increases.
- Help self-esteem: Everyone likes to complete things. It brings a self of accomplishment that feels great. As you master your hobby more and more, your confidence and self-esteem build.
Everyone is busy. It’s nearly impossible not to feel like you’re bouncing from one thing to the next. But when you feel like you don’t have time to dedicate to your hobbies, remember, they’re good for you.
Which hobbies are the best for boosting mental health?
There is no one reigning champ of hobbies for mental health. We’re all different, so we will choose different things to help us relax. What works for you may not yield the same results for someone else. It’s about finding the right hobby that you find value in.
Here are some common options people use to elevate their mental health and why it works.
Regularly journaling is a powerful tool that allows you to work through feelings and reflect on events you experience. It’s often recommended for those with anxiety, depression and PTSD. You don’t have to write a novel; research has shown that journaling for as little as fifteen minutes daily can help reduce anxiety.
You don’t have to search to solve a problem while journaling. It’s also something you can do just for fun. The benefits come either way. Common types of journaling include reflective journaling — which involves writing about your day and what you thought about it — and gratitude journaling.
No matter what type of journaling you choose, it’s a great hobby that allows you to highlight your wins and challenge negative thoughts and feelings.
Everyone knows that eating can be therapeutic. But so can cooking. Besides the benefits that can affect your physical health, like being in control of the ingredients, there are several reasons why cooking is one of the best hobbies for mental health. It offers a level of emotional relief that other hobbies may not.
According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, cooking can help you relax and boost your happiness. It’s not hard to see why. With each dish, you feel more self-reliant and confident, not to mention the social connections you can make when serving it to others. And for the record, yes, baking counts too.
Spending time in nature
Hobbies that involve going outside — like hiking or gardening — can be great for mental health. Studies show that being in sunlight can help boost the body’s serotonin production. Serotonin is the naturally occurring neurotransmitter that plays a part in regulating our moods, according to Harvard Health Publishing. It’s called the “feel-good” chemical for a reason. When our body produces the right amount of serotonin, we feel happy and calm. Lower levels of serotonin are associated with mood disorders like depression.
So if you’re someone who goes outside, you’re helping your body combat depression without even knowing it. Being outside in nature can also reduce stress and lower your heart rate.
When I say art, I’m talking about everything creative you can think of — painting, drawing, sculpting, embroidery and woodworking. The list goes on. No matter where your hobbies fall in the lineup, you get tangible mental health benefits from them.
Art lets you express your feelings and channel your creativity. You may also use it as a way to work through things that are tough to talk about. It’s a tactic used often in art therapy sessions.
Art may also relieve stress and improve self-confidence. You do not need to be “good” at painting to do it. There is no bar to meet for quality. The only thing that matters is that you enjoy what you’re doing.
You get a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment from playing an instrument. Making something feels good, and your body responds to those positive feelings. But if you’re not musically inclined, don’t worry; listening to music also derives similar benefits by lowering stress and anxiety levels. It also can boost your mood.
Reading is the ultimate form of escapism. You can jump into a whole new world and live a thousand different lives — or as many books as you can read. It also happens to be a great hobby if you have anxiety. Reading can help distract you from negative or intrusive thinking you may be experiencing. It also can help lower your heart rate and help you relax.
You’ll get the same benefits from listening to books too. So if you can’t carve out the time to read, try listening while walking your dog or cleaning your house.
Strategy games and puzzles — like chess, crosswords and sudoku — are other hobbies that are good for your mental health. Studies have found that strategy games improve brain functioning, problem-solving skills and memory. Puzzle games also can help those with ADHD hone their concentration.
Given their ability to strengthen cognition, strategy games and puzzles may also reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s in older adults. However, experts are divided on whether they are truly a preventative measure or if they help cope with the disease. More research is needed to determine strategy games’ role in age-related cognitive decline.
Whether you work out alone or participate in team sports, exercise is one of the best hobbies to have — both physically and mentally. When we exercise, our brains flood with endorphins that boost mood, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Exercise is an outlet to let out frustrations and navigate emotions. By exercising, you’re lowering your risk for anxiety and depression. Team sports give you the extra edge by filling up your social meter while moving your body.