Simple pleasures in life hold the key to forging a more resilient, peaceful, and fulfilled life. However, our mental well-being can be impacted by many different things, from life-changing events to everyday tasks.
While there are many methods, we may use to actively improve our mental health, an often-overlooked factor is spending time on an activity you enjoy – a hobby! These cherished pursuits, which are frequently written off as mere pastimes possess a remarkable power to mend the worn edges of our minds and emotions.
When you indulge in an activity you enjoy, your brain generates endorphins, which are thought to be responsible for making you feel good. Your pastime over time assists in conditioning the brain to be active, content, and healthy.
In this special feature let’s see how a touch of a paintbrush, a basketball hoop, or a soothing melody of a guitar performs miracles for mental harmony.
How hobbies affect the reward system in the brain
Having a hobby has been related to decreasing levels of depression and may even prevent depression for certain people, according to research, which can also improve mental health.
When you indulge in hobbies, your body releases happy hormones including serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine.
Your digestion and sleep are improved by serotonin release. When you partake in leisure pursuits and spend time outside, serotonin is released.
The nice, fuzzy sensation you have from spending time with friends or family, beginning a new relationship, or cuddling with your dog is brought on by oxytocin.
Your pain and tension are reduced by endorphins because they work on the same receptors as medications. Exercise with a cardiovascular component is the greatest strategy to increase endorphin production. Leaving your comfort zone is essential for endorphin release.
Dopamine is most associated with rewards and rapid fulfillment, where you experience a rush of pleasure. Neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that help us feel pleasure, such as dopamine, are released when we engage in a hobby we enjoy. These feel-good chemicals can then inspire us and make us desire to engage in the activity once more.
“Hobbies are meaningful experiences that not only add fun and happiness to mundane routines but also have a substantial impact on our mental well-being and emotional health. Recent research has shown that people who have hobbies rarely suffer from stress, anxiety, and low mood. Hence, adding a hobby to your routine helps us keep our mental, physical, and emotional health fit,” says Prachi Kohli, Counselling Psychologist at Kaleidoscope, Dr. Bakshi’s Healthcare.
What “counts” as a hobby?
Any regular, enjoyable activity carried out during downtime can be considered a hobby. Whatever you choose to do—creative, athletic, intellectual, or more specialized—what counts most is that you find it fulfilling and pleasurable. Hobbies can include relaxing alone, socializing with people, experiencing nature, participating in sports, or even traveling. Our mental health can improve when we set aside time to deliberately engage in enjoyable activities, according to studies.
Difference between a hobby and just doing something engaging
Your level of engagement is what distinguishes a pastime from simply doing something enjoyable. Although binge-watching TV shows is fun, it rarely satisfies your desire for purpose or significance. A good diversion from everything you’re not doing is provided when you totally commit to something you love. For people in recovery, that translates to hours of uninterrupted time during which you can divert your attention from the substance to which you were once addicted.
Why Hobbies Are Good for Your Mental Health
There are many reasons to get a hobby — and for lots of people, the health benefits top the list.
1. Hobbies Offer an Unparalleled Level of Engagement
Hobbies come in all shapes and sizes. They can be creative, academic, physical, or just plain relaxing.
2. Hobbies Reduce Stress
It has been demonstrated that engaging in leisure or downtime activities lowers stress levels. For instance, one study found that after creating art, cortisol levels—one of the most well-researched biological markers of stress—were reduced in almost 75% of participants.
You can reenergize and feel more equipped to handle whatever life throws your way by carving out some time for yourself to indulge in a pastime.
3. Hobbies Can Improve Feelings of Anxiety or Depression
Hobbies that involve a group or ‘team’ have also been found to be significant sources of social interaction, friendship, and support. Adults who regularly engage in a team activity are also less likely to exhibit signs of stress, anxiety, or sadness, according to research.
Hobbies give you a proactive means of battling thoughts of pessimism or despair in life and reclaiming mental wellness.
4. Hobbies Can Help You Rediscover Your Interests and Strengths
Being addicted can strip you of your identity and leave you feeling hopeless or unworthy. Having a pastime can help you rediscover your true self while you’re in recovery. You’ll keep in mind that you are more than the issues that have afflicted you as you partake in activities that pique your interests, tap into your talents, and amplify your strengths. You matter because you are a unique individual.
5. You Can Benefit from the Power of Participation
A great method to improve your mental health is to take part in a social activity, whether you decide to join a sports team, try out a new gym, or enroll in an art class. Particularly exercise is a natural mood enhancer. Along with the obvious advantages of maintaining your physical health, participating in a group activity with others has amazing benefits for your mental health:
- Increasing your social connections.
- Teaching you how to deal with setbacks and challenges in a healthy way.
- Improving your sleep.
6. Improved mental health
Physically active hobbies have been associated with numerous health advantages, such as lowered blood pressure, stress levels, and heart rates. There are numerous extra advantages to exercising outside though. According to experts, even 10 minutes in nature can have a positive impact on one’s mood, ability to concentrate, and general well-being.
Few hobbies one can practice in their daily routine
Some of the most popular hobbies for mental health include:
- Sports and Exercise
The benefits of exercise for mental health are numerous. It causes the release of endorphins in the brain, which increase feelings of happiness and lessen anxiety and depressive symptoms. Cardio exercises like biking, jogging, and walking are excellent for both your physical and emotional well-being.
Yoga is a holistic discipline that maintains both physical and mental alignment. In addition to lowering stress, it can increase the flow of feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
- Listening to Music
Mental health is significantly impacted by music. Anxiety and stress can be reduced by listening to music. It may also evoke pleasant emotions and recollections.
- Playing an instrument
Learning to play an instrument can give you a sense of success and happiness. Playing instruments like the tabla, guitar, Casio, etc. can ease sadness, anxiety, and stress. It can be a fantastic mood-altering substance that boosts excitement, vitality, and happiness while easing the symptoms of sadness, weariness, irritability, and disorientation.
Making your favourite cuisine with awareness can help you relax and feel better. Some individuals claim that experimenting with various recipes and baking in their spare time has helped them mentally.
- Drawing, Painting and Pottery
Engaging in creative pursuits like painting, pottery, carving, or drawing can reduce tension and encourage mental peace. It is quite calming and serves as a great diversion from daily life. You don’t need to be a skilled painter to take advantage of what this pastime has to offer.
You can gain new perspectives on the environment by disconnecting from technology. The practice of photography can induce contemplative states in a person. You feel calmer from the inside out when you take pictures and interact with the outside world and environment.
Reading is a soothing pastime that may help you forget about any tension in your life and take you to a different universe made up of book pages and your imagination.
- Journaling or Writing
Writing down your ideas in a journal or piece of paper, or creating a poem or narrative, has a calming effect on the senses. It also serves as a means of reflection and mental stillness.
You can control your anxiety and depressive symptoms and reduce stress by keeping a journal. Additionally, keeping a journal enables you to recognise and address any circumstances in your life that are contributing to stress, sadness, or anxiety. This then enables you to build a strategy for handling any challenging circumstances that might be endangering your mental health.
Gardening and being around plants can both be beneficial for mental health. You can start with taking care of house plants or succulents if you’d prefer to garden gradually. It also fosters patience while enhancing focus and attention to finer details.
Dancing promotes mood improvement, socialisation, and self-expression. Additionally, it enhances flexibility and posture, uplifts your mood, and calms anxiety. Additionally, it can make your intellect sharper.
Tips to make time for hobbies:
Time seems to be a constant obstacle that prevents us from doing the things we enjoy. Work often takes precedence over play in the arrangement of our lives. Even though many of us believe we don’t have enough time in the day for hobbies, there are things we can do to make more time for the activities we enjoy:
- Try thinking about time in weeks rather than trying to locate “hobby time” every day to find extra time that is hidden in your calendar. Give something you enjoy a few hours each week. Still, having trouble making time for enjoyment? To lessen your workload and make time for hobbies, take a step back and say “no” (or delegate).
- Throughout the day, we may frequently find ourselves operating on autopilot. When you engage in mindless activities like checking social media or watching television, it’s simple to lose track of time. Pay attention to how you pass the time when you’re not working, whether it’s in the morning or the evening, and think about how you may use that time to indulge in something you like.
- Taking ‘ micro breaks’ during the workday is increasingly being backed by research to boost output. Utilise these little periods of time throughout the day to do something you enjoy, such as going for a stroll outside, listening to your favourite music or podcasts, reading a chapter or two of a good book, or chatting with friends.
Teens who participate in extracurriculars, get less screen time, have better mental health
According to research from the University of British Columbia, teens’ mental health improves when they engage in more extracurricular activities, such as athletics and art, and less time in front of screens.
The researchers discovered that, particularly among girls, recreational screen time of less than two hours per day—which includes activities like browsing the internet, playing video games, and using social media—was linked to higher levels of life satisfaction and optimism as well as lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms. Likewise, involvement in extracurricular activities was linked to higher mental health results.
“Our findings highlight extracurricular activities as an asset for teens’ mental wellbeing. Finding safe ways for children and teens to continue to participate in these activities during current times may be a way to reduce screen time and promote mental health and wellbeing,” says the study’s lead author Eva Oberle, assistant professor with the Human Early Learning Partnership in the UBC school of population and public health.
Highlights of the study’s findings include the following:
- Taking part in extracurricular activities was linked to higher levels of life satisfaction and optimism as well as lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
- Adolescents who participated in extracurricular activities were significantly less likely to engage in recreational screen-based activities for two or more hours after school.
- More than two hours a day of screen usage was linked to higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms and worse levels of life satisfaction and optimism.
- But for both boys and girls, mental health was at its best when teens engaged in extracurricular activities and watched less than two hours of television per day.
Engagement in leisure activities can lower the risk of depression and improve mental well-being
According to Oregon State University research, taking part in recreational activities can help reduce the risk of depression and enhance mental health.
503 people were polled by researchers following the second COVID wave. They asked participants to name their preferred leisure activity and how frequently they were able to partake in it, and then examined participant stress, depressive symptoms, overall health, and well-being. Participants were also questioned about how their level of engagement with that activity had altered following COVID and how it contrasted to what they thought it should be.
The study found that, other from walking and gardening, most physical and outdoor activities were declining. At-home activities like reading, writing, and computer or video games, however, were generally increasing.
In terms of mental health, 24% of respondents said they had serious depressive disorder, 13% said they had extremely severe stress, and 7% said they had poor mental health.
The findings revealed that, more so than activity frequency, changes in engagement level compared to pre-COVID involvement as well as the discrepancy between respondents’ present and ideal levels of engagement in that activity were substantially connected with mental health.
The findings imply that while under stress, people lean more heavily into their favourite leisure activity.
“We see that people who reported higher stress also reported increased engagement in their leisure activity. But if they were able to increase their engagement or maintain it, they did not report more depressive symptoms,” said Xiangyou Shen, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Forestry. “It’s OK if you experience higher stress if you also maintain or adapt what you do in leisure time as a protective buffer. Failing to maintain or make adaptive changes, you are at higher risk for depression.”
Every day, finding spare time is not always simple. Yet these priceless moments when you’re free from your typical responsibilities can present a chance to indulge in pursuits you appreciate. A pastime is more than just something you do for yourself; it’s something you put time and effort into because it makes you happy and sparks your interests.