How hobbies can improve mental health and overall well-being

We all know the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Just as eating fruits and vegetables can play an important role in physical health, research suggests there may be a similarly simple way to improve mental health – having a hobby.

At a time when managers and employees alike may be struggling with their mental health, hobbies can provide a fun way to beat the blues.

The science behind hobbies as mood-boosters

Hobbies can make us feel happier and more relaxed, and studies have shown that people who participate in hobbies suffer less from low moods, depression, and stress. Whether you enjoy athletics, creative endeavors, or academic hobbies, the result is the same if you find the activity meaningful and enjoyable.

That’s because hobbies trigger the brain’s natural reward system, according to The Conversation . If you treat yourself to a hobby you enjoy, it sets off your brain’s pleasure sensors, releasing chemicals that make you feel happy or content. In turn, these chemicals can increase your motivation to continue.

The hobbies you choose can provide you additional benefits. Physical activities can improve brain function and increase physical fitness, both of which have been linked to better moods and stress relief. Hobbies that require coordination or dexterity will tune up your motor skills. Examples include knitting, drawing, playing video games, and woodworking. You may improve memory by learning a language, taking up tai chi, doing a crossword puzzle, and reading, just to name a few.

Where to begin in the search for a hobby

If you don’t have a hobby in mind already, don’t worry. Exploring your options can be fun. Here are some ideas for hobbies you can take up to maintain good mental health:

  • Attend a photography class at your local technical college or just go out and take pictures of things you like. Experiment with photography techniques and different angles of a single subject. Use the time to observe things around you and try to see objects or people from new perspectives.
  • Attempt a new recipe in the kitchen, attend a cooking class, or teach yourself to bake. The obvious benefit is that these hobbies result in something tasty (which triggers your brain to release feel-good chemicals making you feel happy), but they also require your focus on the recipe which can take your mind off the negative. Cooking can be a stress reliever and the joy of accomplishing what you started, or providing for family and friends, can build self-esteem.
  • Start hiking and explore state and county parks near you. This form of exercise also gives you a dose of nature which can be both mood-boosting and calming. If you solo hike, you can use the time to practice mindfulness while taking in the sights around you.
  • Take lessons to learn a musical instrument. Playing a musical instrument can relieve stress for many people and is an outlet for creativity or emotions. Plus, experts say setting a goal to learn an instrument and achieving it can help boost your confidence.
  • Try gardening or growing indoor potted plants. This hobby is optimistic by nature because only time and care will help plants grow, and it can come with a sense of pride from working with your hands and succeeding in what you try.
  • Join a community recreational league like softball, basketball, badminton, or pickleball. You’ll reap the benefits of physical exercise and social interaction with others. There’s a bonus if you laugh and chat with your teammates because both can be good for your mental health.
  • Sign up for dance lessons or go to Zumba classes. You can express yourself in a different way through dance, get a fun workout in, and you might even meet new friends at class. Listening to upbeat music is also an effective way to lift your mood.

Trying new hobbies keeps your mind active and healthy, and these are just a handful of suggestions to get you started. Ask your coworkers what they do for fun, and you’ll probably hear some other great ideas.

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