Not a single one of us is a stranger to stress. It often hits us from all ends – work, family, friends, etc. And although we can’t always control our stressors, the good news is we can take charge of our mental health. One way to do this is by engaging in activities that help to alleviate our stress, lessen our anxiety, and allow us to recharge and rejuvenate our senses. In short, we’re talking about hobbies!
Hobbies are extremely beneficial in relieving our stress levels and promoting good mental health. Among the number of important benefits hobbies provide for us are allowing us a break from responsibilities, expanding our social circles, and giving us an outlet in which to perform activities that give us pleasure. If you want more happiness and less stress, spending just a few hours a week engaged in a favorite pastime can go a long way in achieving that.
Now, of course we all have different interests, but there are specific hobbies that have been scientifically proven to help reduce stress levels. Let’s have a look at each of them:
One of our worst habits and greatest stressors is the act of rumination – in other words, obsessing over negative thoughts. Studies have shown that taking a walk in nature can help to reduce this habit. Breathing in fresh air while taking in beautiful surroundings can flood you with a sense of peace, which in effect halts negativity. Hiking also gives you an aerobic workout, which is another benefit that works to reduce stress. So the next time you find yourself feeling stressed, you can literally take ‘strides’ to ‘walk it off.’
The peace that nature offers can also been found in gardening. Not only does gardening get you out into fresh air for physical activity, but it also helps you focus your attention, which can serve to distract you from stressors that might otherwise be on your mind. Scientifically speaking, research has shown that gardening actually reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which thereby improves positive mood.
Studies have shown that yoga helps to reduce the body’s physiological stress response, and can diminish symptoms of anxiety and depression. First, it provides a means for physical exercise (increasing your flexibility and strength) which in and of itself can reduce stress. On top of that, it also helps you to focus on breathing, providing you with the opportunity to meditate and deepen the mind-body connection.
As a cardiovascular activity, dancing boosts endorphins which help you to feel good. Dancing also lets you express yourself in a health manner, and can even help you to form bonds with others. Regardless of what type of dance you prefer, or whether you choose to dance solo or with a partner, dancing is a great way to release tension and reduce stress.
According to studies, just six minutes of reading can help to reduce stress by two-thirds! Physiologically, reading works to reduce muscle tension and slow down heart rate. Reading also provides us with the benefit of distraction from our daily stressors by allowing us a temporary form of escape from our own realities. So go grab a book, get cozy, and allow yourself to get lost in another world for a little while.
An excellent way to reduce stress and anxiety is to keep a journal. Stress is often caused by too much happening at once, a sense of uncertainty about something, or a loss of feeling in control. Journaling allows you to express yourself, which in turn can help you to release pent-up negative emotions. This release can give you a clearer perspective in which to see your own thoughts and feelings, and can bring you new understandings to help things feel less overwhelming and more within your control.
Studies show that knitting is effective at reducing both physical and mental symptoms of stress. This is because the repetitive movement of knitting is often experienced as meditative. A lot of stress comes down to worry and uncertainty about the future — but the meditative headspace that knitting offers engages you to hone in and focus on just the present moment.
So, we’ve covered why hobbies are important and how they can help eliminate or reduce stress — but, how do we fit them into our schedules in the face of our daily obligations, like work, school, or taking care of family?
First, determine what your actual responsibilities are, prioritize them, and determine where you can cut back or reconfigure any excess time. How much time is spent watching TV during the week, or laying on the couch on weekends? Identify any times you could be spending on recreation – you might be surprised to discover that there’s more of it than you think.
Next, schedule a regular time on the calendar to partake in your hobby. If adding yet another thing to your schedule sounds unappealing, take comfort in the fact that you’re actually setting aside time to do something that you enjoy doing. Remember to let family members and friends know that you will be unavailable during this time (or invite them along if it’s a group activity).
Lastly, get up and do it! Half the battle is getting started, so even if you don’t feel like it, or if you have other things tugging at your mind that have to get done, use the time you’ve scheduled for its intended purpose. It won’t be long before you settle into the groove and find yourself actually having fun!
Remember, taking part in a hobby is important to your happiness and stress level. You have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of your family and career. Self-care can help stave off a meltdown, so do your body and your mind some good and embark on a stress-relieving hobby that you get enjoyment out of. You’ll be glad you did!