Having fun is a health intervention

How Hobbies Can Boost Mental Health

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Do you feel like your stress is about to burst through the roof? If the endless demands of daily life leave you feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or mentally frayed, consider taking up a hobby. Hobbies are not only ways to pass time but also powerful mental health activities that can boost psychological wellness. For example, a study in Nature Medicine found that engaging in hobbies was associated with significantly greater well-being, health, happiness, and life satisfaction as well as significantly fewer depression symptoms. On the other hand, loss of interest in hobbies can be a sign of anhedonia, a common depression symptom characterized by a loss of pleasure in formerly enjoyed activities.

Fun activities to improve mental health

Think back to your childhood. What activities made you lose track of time, making your worries and responsibilities fade away? Remember the thrill of building a tower so tall it seemed like it would touch the clouds? Or the bliss of finding a cozy corner of the library, where you became absorbed in a story that magically transported you to another world? Though rarely labeled as such, hobbies are a time-tested method of improving mental health that can rekindle a childlike sense of playfulness.

Whether the adrenaline-fueled rush of rock climbing or the tactile pleasures of woodworking, hobbies add immeasurable richness to our existence—a refreshing antidote to the mind-numbing drudgery experienced by so many these days. Hobbies allow us to step off the treadmill of relentless achievement and into a world where joyful exploration is all that matters. They’re a rebellion against the notion that every moment must be optimized for productivity and an invitation to rediscover the magic of pursuing whatever ignites your curiosity, even if it seems impractical or nonsensical to your adult mind.

The mental health benefits of hobbies

Reduce stress

Hobbies provide a much-needed escape from daily pressures. When you lose yourself in an activity you love, your focus shifts from stressors to the present moment. This mental break allows your nervous system to reset and recharge.

But there’s more to hobbies than distraction. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our bodies, leading to a host of health problems. Hobbies are an antidote. They can reduce the body’s stress response, lower blood pressure, slow heart rate, and ease muscle tension.

Even hobbies that aren’t typically considered relaxing can reduce stress. The intense focus required for activities like archery or playing a musical instrument can prompt a “flow state” of complete absorption in the task—an incredibly effective method for reducing stress. Also, when immersed in a favorite activity, the brain releases endorphins, neurotransmitters known as “feel-good chemicals.” They produce a sense of euphoria and joy and interact with the brain’s pain receptors to reduce the perception of pain and discomfort.

Increase self-esteem

Let’s say that deep down, you feel that learning new skills—particularly those most people consider difficult—is beyond you. This belief might be rooted in experiences like a rigid academic environment that took the joy out of learning or unrelenting criticism from family members. 

In such cases, hobbies offer opportunities to rewrite the narrative of your life. When you dive into a pastime you’re genuinely excited about, whether coding, knitting, or hiking, you’re more likely to stick with it no matter how challenging it gets. This teaches perseverance—an essential life skill. 

You’ll find yourself staying up late to fix a coding bug, spending hours researching new stitches, or pushing through physical discomfort to reach the summit of a mountain you’ve never climbed before. Such dedication not only hones your skills but also forges unyielding determination.

With every hurdle you overcome, you prove to yourself that you’re capable of more than you thought possible. This shift in self-perception can spill over into other areas of your life, helping you feel more confident and in control.

Foster social connection  

Hobbies don’t have to be solitary pursuits. Finding others who share your passion can make your hobbies more enjoyable by fostering a sense of belonging. Ask any hiking enthusiast who has forged deep bonds on the trails.

The mental health benefits of social connection are undeniable. Research shows it can improve mood, reduce stress, and strengthen the immune system. For those struggling with loneliness, sharing hobbies can help ease the sting of isolation. 

Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety

A growing body of research suggests that engaging in enjoyable activities—such as hobbies— can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Of course, hobbies can’t replace professional mental health treatment. But as part of a holistic approach, they are a powerful tool for managing symptoms, boosting mood, and creating a sense of hope and purpose. For adolescents experiencing more persistent or severe symptoms of depression or anxiety, online counseling for teens provides a confidential platform to process difficult emotions, acquire practical tools for coping with life’s challenges, and cultivate a healthier mindset.

How to choose a hobby

Awaken your creativity

If you yearn to express your creative spirit, choose a hobby that unleashes your inner artist. Explore the world of music, painting, sculpture, or another art form that allows your unique voice to be heard. Whether your medium is paint, ink, clay, or a musical instrument, creating art is an excellent way to reduce stress and anxiety.

But remember, it’s all about joyful exploration, not adhering to external standards. Silence the nagging voice of your inner critic—that harsh judge who tells you that you’re not talented enough or that your work is no good. Whether the finished product is a museum-worthy masterpiece or a heartfelt creation meant for your eyes only, it’s a beautiful reminder that you possess the ability to bring something new and wondrous into the world.

Move your body

When we move, our hearts pound with exhilaration, our bodies release a raging river of endorphins, and a powerful surge of energy courses through our veins. This reflects the primal joy that movement awakens in us. It’s a potent reminder that our bodies are designed to move—not to sit for hours hunched over a desk.  

Did you know that physical fitness is highly associated with mental well-being? A study with over 150,000 participants found a link between being out of shape and an increased likelihood of experiencing depression or anxiety. 

Other research demonstrates that people who exercise regularly feel depressed less often. In fact, those who are physically active have over 40% fewer poor mental health days per month. This suggests that exercise may change the brain, making one less likely to feel depressed or anxious.

So, get out there and do an activity that gets your heart pumping, whether it’s the competitive fun of a pickleball league or the thrill of climbing a rock wall with friends. Let the infectious rhythms of a Zumba class carry you away, or channel your inner warrior with martial arts training.

Connect with nature

Nature can soothe a worried mind, recharge a weary spirit, and remind us of the vibrant beauty all around us. It connects us to something larger than ourselves. Whether we’re gazing up at a star-filled sky or marveling at the ocean’s vastness, spending time outdoors helps us transcend everyday concerns.

Research shows that when one is immersed in nature, levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) decrease. One study found that the cortisol levels of those who spent at least 20 minutes daily in natural settings dropped by over 20%.

Consider going on your own personal nature retreat. Try “forest bathing,” the Japanese practice of immersing in the sights, sounds, and smells of the wilderness, to promote relaxation and well-being. Or lose yourself in the simple joys of gardening, nurturing plants from seed to bloom.

Volunteer for a charity  

Studies show that volunteering or engaging in acts of service can significantly boost happiness and reduce stress. It’s a reminder that true fulfillment comes not from accumulating material possessions but from contributing to the lives of others.

If you love animals, foster abandoned kittens or walk dogs at a local shelter. If you have culinary talents, prepare meals at a homeless shelter. You can also tutor children in need, mentor at-risk youth enrolled in online teen therapy, or help adults develop essential literacy skills. 

The rewards of giving back are innumerable. You’ll forge meaningful connections, gain new perspectives, and discover hidden strengths. Most importantly, you’ll help make the world kinder and more compassionate.

Join a hobby community 

Imagine walking into a room filled with laughter and the buzz of shared excitement. The atmosphere is electric, and you instantly feel a strong sense of belonging—like you were meant to be there. That’s what it’s like to find a hobby community that reflects your interests. 

You’re never truly alone when you’re part of a hobby community. Whether you’re tackling a tricky crochet pattern, learning a new dance move, or perfecting your photography skills, they’ve got your back. To find others who share your social hobbies, check out local clubs, meetups, or online groups focused on your favorite activity.

Final thoughts

This discussion of hobbies and mental health has one clear conclusion: taking time to explore your passions is more than fun; it’s an investment in your psychological well-being.  

If you’re working to overcome mental health challenges (e.g., seeking hobbies for anxiety or hobbies for depression), make space for these essential mood-boosting activities. This might include revisiting a childhood passion, exploring a brand-new interest, or expressing creativity in a way that’s uniquely your own. You’ll be amazed at how carving time to engage in an activity you love can reduce your stress and enhance your mood and outlook on life!