What do you enjoy doing the most in your spare time? If your pastimes include coming home from work and collapsing on the couch for yet another Netflix binge, you might feel a bit hollow and unfulfilled.
Hobbies provide the perfect way to add depth and meaning to your life. They create a sense of fulfilment, allowing you to contribute something you find fun and fascinating to human existence.
Certain hobbies go a bit further, providing physical and even emotional benefits. They can help you overcome difficult times, contributing joy to your existence. Here are the seven best hobbies for boosting your mental health.
How Hobbies Boost Your Mental Health
Nearly everything you do affects your physical and emotional state, and hobbies are no exception. How do hobbies boost your mental health? Many of the unique perks depend on how you choose to spend your time, but some are universal.
1. They Provide a Needed Distraction
Dealing with life’s realities can be tough. You can affect some things, but others remain hopelessly beyond your control. For example, you can deal with the stress of losing your job by throwing yourself into finding a meaningful replacement. However, there isn’t much you can do about climate change except make sustainable choices and hope those in power follow suit.
Hobbies provide a needed distraction from the problems you simply can’t fix alone. However, unlike negative behaviors like drinking or taking drugs, they don’t mask issues or result in health woes. Instead, they provide positive outlets for engagement, letting you direct your energies in ways that benefit you, not harm you.
Most hobbies also result in more favorable and pleasurable consequences than maladaptive behaviors like drowning your sorrows in alcohol. A trip to the pub might momentarily relieve stress, but it leaves you with worse anxiety the next day and a nasty headache to boot. Going for a run might give you sore calves or hamstrings the next day, but also lets you bask in the rosy glow of accomplishment, knowing you did something positive for your health.
The best evidence-based hobbies for mental health keep you away from negative behaviors. For example, you might overeat when stressed by grazing impulsively while snack foods remain in the house. However, you don’t want to get Doritos crumbs all over your new cross stitch design – it’s impossible to indulge in both at once.
2. They Keep You Physically Active
Some of the best hobbies for boosting your mental health also provide physical benefits. Nearly any form of exercise that gets your heart beating faster prompts your body to produce endorphins, which are natural chemicals that enhance feelings of well-being while easing chronic pain. Getting moving more often also reduces your cardiovascular disease risk and helps you control your weight.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to train for a marathon or spend hours on the elliptical to get the benefits. Nearly any hobby involves moving more than your typical Netflix binge does. Even dedicated readers visit the library and their favorite bookstores, perhaps heading out to meet with a literature circle on certain evenings.
However, hobbies involving physical activity may be your best bet if physical ailments impact your mental health. For example, many people with chronic conditions often fear getting worse – their disorders may already limit some of their daily activities. They worry about the future. Exercise puts you back in the driver’s seat, reassuring you that you are doing everything in your power to prevent further decline.
3. They Help Grow Your Friendship Circle
Loneliness can kill, and the problem isn’t confined to older adults. In one recent survey, 40% of those aged 16-24 reported this emotion, while only 29% of those between 65 and 74 did. Part of the problem might be longer working hours preventing many from engaging in their favorite hobbies.
Some of the best hobbies for anxiety and depression involve other people. These disorders often compel you to isolate yourself, feeling like no one understands or wants to associate with a “Debbie Downer.” However, wallowing in your despair or fear alone leads to rumination, filling your head with everything that could go wrong. Associating with others can help you find answers to your problems or at least take your mind off your trouble for a while.
4. They Let You Exercise Your Creativity
If you work in a role that requires you to do essentially the same thing each day, you could start feeling more like a cog in a machine than a human being endowed with the ability to create. That’s not an optimal state of mind for peak mental health.
Worse, you could get stuck in a rut and develop severe anxiety if something disrupts your daily routine. Some of the best hobbies for OCD teach you to relax and go with the flow. For example, even the best birdwatchers can’t make a yellow-bellied sapsucker appear in their binoculars – but part of the joy of this hobby is the thrill of the chase and learning to delight in the unexpected.
5. They Can Aid in Recovery
If your mental health concerns result from trauma or addiction, certain hobbies can aid in your recovery. For example, art is a powerful way for victims of sexual abuse to express their emotions without necessarily needing to put them into words.
Yoga is another outlet and one of the best hobbies for PTSD. For example, survivors may struggle with poses like “puppy” and “happy baby,” but working through them can help their bodies process the trauma trapped with their muscle fibers.
Nearly any hobby that keeps you busy aids in addiction recovery. The best hobbies for improving this mental health condition occupy your hands. It’s pretty challenging to down a beer or light a pipe while hitting a grand slam home run for your recreational softball team. Just ensure you stick to Gatorade during the celebration that follows.
6. They Instill a Sense of Agency
The one quality that all of the best hobbies for boosting your mental health share is that they instill a sense of agency. Why does it matter? When you feel like you can’t control your environment, like you are a victim of circumstance, it’s easier to drift into despair or anxiety about an uncertain future. A sense of agency restores your power, convincing you that your actions can bring about positive change.
Therefore, if you feel helpless, why not adopt a hobby? If you need some ideas for getting started, please consult the list below.
7 Best Hobbies for Boosting Your Mental Health
What are the best hobbies for boosting your mental health? The list below contains seven suggestions designed to suit nearly any lifestyle or interest. Why not select your favorite and give it a try today?
Psst. Here’s a secret – you don’t have to be the next Stephen King to enjoy putting your pen to paper. You don’t even need to show your scribblings to another living soul. You can find diary apps that open with a private code if you prefer electronic input, or maybe invest in a funky, old-fashioned paper model complete with a lock to prevent prying eyes.
Here’s a hobby that can lead to a lucrative new career. This feature comes in handy if one of the reasons you feel depressed or anxious stems from an unrewarding or even toxic job situation. While it’s a bit tough to break into the freelance field, you can create a lucrative side stream of income once you obtain enough ghostwriting or copywriting clients.
However, you don’t have to turn your hobby into a career aspiration. Journaling ranks among the top activities that are good for mental health, so much so that many therapists recommend it to their clients. You can use the page to work through issues, separating emotions from logic. It’s also a powerful tool for venting overwhelming emotions that typically trigger maladaptive coping strategies, like drinking.
For example, perhaps your micromanaging supervisor crossed a line too many, leaving you fuming and ready to hand in your notice. Pouring out your angry emotions on the page provides a safe place to vent. You can’t get fired for what you say if you don’t type your words into an email and send it.
Once you express your ire, you can work through your next steps. Can you realistically cover your bills for a while if you do hand in your notice? If so, why not hop on the Great Resignation train and rid yourself of that toxicity? If not, what positive coping strategies can you imagine to help you get through your daily interactions with this person until you can find a different job?
Hiking benefits your mental health by combining two fabulous perks: the endorphin-producing effects of physical exercise with the calming impact of spending time in nature. Research indicates that simply gazing at natural scenes can reduce stress levels. Imagine the one-two punch of seeing beauty all around you while getting your heart pumping.
For some, the mental health benefits of this hobby go even further. Hiking can reinforce your feelings of interconnectedness with all life. This realization bursts loneliness and lifts you out of momentary sorrows as you contemplate the deeper meaning of life and what it means to be human.
Stargazing is also one of the best hobbies for mental health because it lends necessary perspective. If you want a creative new way to envision your current problems, look through a telescope and marvel at all the other planets. Imagine a fictional alien confronted with your troubles in their world. How would they cope? Let your brain go wild – you might be surprised at the creative solutions you consider.
The right telescope can help with this hobby, especially if you live in an area with considerable light pollution. This solitary pastime can seem lonely – many amateur astronomers engage in their passion around 2 a.m. while the rest of the world sleeps. However, you might crave the solitude if you work in customer service or with screaming toddlers all day. You can always become a member of your local planetarium to meet others who share your enthusiasm.
Fishing might also be one of your best hobbies for boosting your mental health if you crave alone time. This pastime could also improve your nutritional intake, secondarily safeguarding your brain.
How? Fish are among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These substances are critical components of cell membranes and protect your neurons from oxidative stress. Deficiencies can lead to cognitive decline and mental problems.
Volunteering may top the list of best hobbies for boosting your mental health. Performing acts of kindness prompts your brain to release a host of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.
Volunteering also engages that all-important sense of agency. You’re not helpless in the face of climate change if you’re actively advocating for sustainable technologies and participating in beach cleanups. You’re using your power to do what you can, and the satisfaction of doing so can help you sleep more soundly at night.
Gardening is another hobby that boosts your mental health in several ways. It gets you outdoors and moving in the glorious sunshine, providing many of the same perks hiking does.
Additionally, gardening provides you and your family with a source of organic produce rich in vitamins and minerals. Scientists worry about the nutrient content of foods due to soil depletion, and shipped fruits and vegetables lose nearly a third of their nutritional value three short days after harvest. However, you can enjoy a fresh-from-the-vine tomato in your pasta tonight if you grow them in patio containers.
Rounding out this list of the best hobbies for boosting your mental health is yoga. Anyone can reap the perks of this ancient practice, but it’s particularly valuable for the “spoonie” tribe members – those with chronic illnesses.
Chronic illness and pain impact your mental health – it’s natural to feel depressed and anxious when you hurt. However, your mental state also affects your physical body. Interoception is the concept of how your mind interprets bodily sensations, often outside your conscious awareness. Furthermore, the anguish of past experiences lingers in your muscles and tissues.
For example, a trauma survivor might experience someone veering a bit too close to their lane on the way to work. As a result, their heart rate increases momentarily. Someone without their background might quickly recover and drive on as if nothing happened. However, the same momentary racing heartbeat activates the trauma survivor’s HPA axis, throwing them into a full-blown panic attack or deep depression.
Yoga involves mindfulness, particularly awareness of your bodily sensations. Once you make the connection – your brain interprets a rapid heartbeat as a sign you’re back in a helpless, traumatizing situation – it’s easier to mitigate the problem. Practicing deep breathing, as you do when holding challenging poses, activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the side of your central nervous system that tells you to rest, digest, and relax.
Yoga also relieves trauma trapped deep in your body’s tissues. For example, many people carry emotions in their hips, and it isn’t unusual to cry on the mat when doing poses like pigeon and firelog. This practice teaches you that it’s okay to sit with your feelings and experience them instead of stuffing them down with maladaptive behaviors. Once you process what occurred, you can gradually let go and move on with your life, free from the ghosts of your past.
Best Hobbies for Boosting Your Mental Health
Everything you do impacts your cognitive state. The right pastimes can improve your overall mental outlook.
Embrace these best hobbies for boosting your mental health. You’ll enjoy life more when you engage in it instead of letting it pass you on television. You’ll improve your social circle, get more physically active, and reap the multiple neurological perks of doing something you love.