It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind of today’s fast-paced world in which we must work to make a living but also make time to exercise, make nutritious meals, maintain our social relationships, and get at least seven hours of sleep. It can seem like you have no time to dedicate to self-care, but life’s hectic pace is precisely why nurturing your mental health should be a top priority. One way to do this is to take up a new hobby. 

What exactly is a hobby?

A hobby is simply any activity done regularly for pleasure. It doesn’t have to be something you’re necessarily good at, just something you enjoy. There’s no limit to what can be considered a hobby. It can be something wildly unconventional, like painting snail shells or extreme ironing

Hobbies can sometimes be a source of income as well, but there’s a difference between a hobby and a side business or hustle. Legally, a hobby is something that is pursued without the intention of making money from it.

6 ways hobbies improve mental health

Your mental health directly impacts your quality of life, affecting everything from your relationships and work performance to your physical health. Incorporating hobbies into your lifestyle can have a profound impact. 

Lower stress

There’s a direct correlation between leisure time and levels of stress — namely that the less fun free time you have, the more stressed you’ll be. Hobbies that require your full attention can help you disconnect from the worries of daily life and create a sense of calm, which is an effective way to both cope with stress and be more resilient in the face of future stressful events.

Improve mood

Hobbies elicit positive emotions like joy or satisfaction which in turn, positively affect mood and overall emotional well-being. The sense of accomplishment or pride in pursuing your interests improves feelings of contentment both during and after. Engaging in new experiences also stimulates the part of the brain tied to memory, so you’re more likely to remember feeling good, while negative emotions are diminished

Encourage creativity

Hobbies are endeavors with no wrong answers that you simply do for your own enjoyment. The lack of pressure allows you to tap into your innate creativity without restraint, an important sense of freedom that can be difficult to find in the day-to-day. Hobbies related to the arts, such as music, painting, and writing are obvious ways to allow creativity to flourish. However, non-artistic hobbies like horseback riding, baking, and gardening can still stimulate creativity.

Boost self-esteem

Both new and old hobbies can foster feelings of accomplishment and purpose that leave us feeling braver, more capable, and more in control. New experiences can be intimidating, so you might feel proud after trying basket weaving for the first time (as you should). But getting better at something you already enjoy, like gardening, can also foster a sense of self-discovery and personal growth.

Enhanced cognitive function 

Hobbies have many great benefits for cognition, especially new ones. Scientists have been saying for years that trying new things is good for the brain, specifically its neuroplasticity. Novel experiences force the brain to rewire itself, thus improving adaptability and memory.

Build social connections

Hobbies like sports or acting involve group settings that allow you to meet new people and engage in shared interests. However, even traditionally solitary activities can help you feel connected to a larger community of other people who share similar interests and alleviate feelings of isolation.

How do I make time for a hobby?

Carving out time to do something you enjoy, even briefly, can improve your mental health. Here are X ways to find the time to dedicate to your hobby:

  • Build it into your schedule. Instead of hoping that you end up with free time eventually, treat your hobby the same way you handle other important tasks or appointments like doctor’s appointments, lunch dates, or birthday parties, and add it to your calendar and agenda. 
  • Take micro-breaks. If finding big chunks of time in the day is difficult, take advantage of all those in-between moments like driving home from work or the few minutes between meetings to do something related to your hobby. Listening to a podcast or reading replies in an online forum can help you feel more prepared so that for your next hobby session you can just dive right in. 
  • Turn off autopilot. Odds are you have more time than you realize, it’s just being frittered away by time-suck activities like scrolling on your phone or watching TV while you eat. Become more mindful of all your downtime and how you spend it, and you may realize you have plenty of time to do that thing you’ve been wanting to try. 

If depression or other mental health issues are preventing you from taking up a hobby or enjoying the activities you used to do, talk to a mental health therapist today.