Let’s talk about hobbies and anxiety…
Imagine a world where doctors prescribe silent meditation at the edge of a Norwegian fjord. Or scribble a prescription for pottery classes, ukulele lessons, or horse therapy sessions. Imagine if doctors dispensed wellness and hobbies, only opting for pharmaceuticals after group therapy and discovery and rest and relaxation proved ineffective for their patient.
I’m not anti-medication. Heck, antidepressants scooped me out of a bleak, black hole when I was 21 and watching my world implode. Medicine has its place. And I’m bloody thankful to get to live in an age of scientific discovery and evidence and cures.
But, I would love to see medicine merge more with wellness. To hear more stories like “My doctor suggested I give singing a go!” rather than “After two minutes, my doctor handed me me a script for SSRIs”.
Medication should be one option. One possible aid to clear the mental fog. It shouldn’t always be the default. It shouldn’t be everything.
What science says about hobbies and mental health
There’s a tonne of research suggesting hobbies and creative activities alleviate anxiety:
- Students experienced an “upward spiral” of increased wellness, when doing everyday creative activities – with the feeling lasting until the next day. The research team said creative behaviour is “a means of cultivating positive psychological functioning.”
- Hobbies and cultural activities (called ‘leisure activities’) positively benefited the mental health of middle-aged adults in Japan.
- 88% of gardeners reported improved mental health after digging in the dirt.
- People who walked in nature for just 90 minutes (compared with walking in urban environments) had decreased activity in the part of the brain associated with depression.
- 4 in 5 people found listening to music or spending time on a hobby was moderately or highly effective in handling stress.
How can hobbies help you?
So that’s some of the science. Question is: how do hobbies help us deal with life?
There’s a lot to unpick here, but let’s look at some of the more obvious benefits of how hobbies can help you:
- Unwind from the grind. Rather than going over and over all the ways your day sucks, doing something creative or pleasurable can switch off your conscious mind and never-ending narrative. It gives your brain a break from plotting and planning and dwelling.
- Build a balanced life. It’s all too easy to let work or other obligations consume us. When we have hobbies, we enjoy greater balance in life and find joy in the simple things. This can help take the spotlight off the awful thing your boss said, or why that guy still hasn’t called back.
- Connect with others. Many hobbies happen to be social. They get us out into the world, sharing activities or simply a space with others. Whether it’s life drawing classes, learning a language, or simply smiling at the people who pass you on a hiking trail, a hobby helps build better relationships and connections. And make new friends.
- Be more self aware. A lot of our leisure activities are passive. Watching Gilmore Girls reruns sure can be satisfying (heck, I binged on all seven seasons this winter) and mindlessly scanning your Facebook feed can become second nature, but these activities disconnect us from our true selves. We become zombies, hollow shells, mindlessly consuming without really being aware of what’s going on inside and around us. While it feels relaxing to tune out, these things can actually increase our anxieties and stress. It’s far healthier to throw yourself into a new challenge: something that makes you feel alive, alert, aware. Because by becoming more self-aware, we become more resilient to the things that trigger our negative thought patterns and behaviours. We get grit.
- Express yourself. Sick of wondering what others think? Feel you have something inside you need to get out, but don’t know how? Get creative! When I feel all bottled up, frustrated, or unoriginal, I get painting, or writing, or macrame-ing, or baking…something. Anything. So long as there are no rules and no scoreboard, these activities help me unleash everything that’s inside. All the ickiness, grittiness, shittiness I’ve been lugging around. And in doing so, I remember my purpose. My place. My life feels fuller, my mind clearer. I’m not just going through the motions, and living a beige, mediocre existence. I’m contributing to the world, making my mark, adding my voice. I’m no longer defined by my job, or my house, or my relationships. I’m my own person, free to express whatever I want, when and however I wish. No limits.
Doing the things you love gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Helps you build a meaningful life. Takes you out of your head, and helps you see the world – and your self – in a new light.
That’s why I would love to see doctors adding hobbies and creativity to their prescription pad. Because medication might work for some people (SSRIs have been show to be less effective for mild depression and anxiety), but they don’t get to the heart of the problem. They cover up the feelings, mask the mental mayhem. They help you get on with life, but they don’t help you build a beautiful, abundant, rich life. Even if patients are prescribed medication, it should be alongside leisure activities and hobbies.
Imagine a world like that.
What hobbies get you out of your head?
Question: what hobbies or activities help clear your mind and unwind? I love horse riding, scuba diving, macramé, painting, writing, and swimming in the sea. What about you?