Stress Relieving Hobbies
- Margaret Strause
I decided 2021 was going to be the year to focus on ME and my health, both mental and physical. It’s almost July and I’m not off to the greatest start, but every day I AM making a concerted effort to improve and focus on specific areas of my life - Stress Reduction being my #1 goal.
A couple of things I have made a habit of doing to reduce stress is walking and deep breathing and although these two exercises are definitely KEY to reducing stress, I find myself still thinking about all of the things I need to DO while I’m walking and sometimes even while breathing. SO, I decided I needed to look into some stress reducing activities to take my mind off of my to-do list. Enter - hobby search...
Hobbies offer you a break from your regular life to simply do activities that you enjoy. And, believe it or not, practicing your hobbies is actually important to your overall health, both mentally and physically. Perfect for my goal!
In my research to find a new hobby or two, I found a list of benefits - which include more than stress reduction (bonus!!):
• Hobbies promote Eustress which is positive stress. While you might feel a bit of stress at learning a new skill, it is an enjoyable feeling. It takes your mind off work or your to- do list and as you actively are involved in something that you enjoy you will feel your worries and stress fade away and your blood pressure lower.
• Hobbies help you get to know yourself better and maybe help you find a new passion or skills that you never knew you had - like woodworking or sewing!!
• Hobbies help you unplug and unwind while still being productive or feeling accomplished. You are focusing on the present moment, creating something while you are doing it and the result will be something tangible you can use, eat, wear or knowledge that you didn’t have before and you can be proud of.
• Hobbies provide an opportunity to connect with others. Humans need social interaction and a lot of hobbies involve clubs, classes or groups - book clubs, gardening clubs, cooking classes, bird watching groups, etc.
• Hobbies build confidence. They offer an opportunity to learn a new skill, which requires brain work and focus.
• Hobbies are good for your health. Studies show that taking up a new hobby may impact blood pressure, cortisol levels, body mass index, physical performance, brain function and promote an overall feeling of well being.
Although I have my go-to calming hobbies - like reading and walking, I found myself wanting to try something new, something that would help me focus or be present, something fun or something restorative.
Here are a few hobbies that are excellent in a multitude of ways:
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Gardening is just good for the soul. It is a perfect outdoor activity to help you focus on the present moment and feel accomplished. Gardening brings both beauty and bounty into your life, all while being outdoors, soaking up the sun’s rays and getting your Vitamin D.
From the beauty of a garden to the refreshing scent of fresh flowers to the nutritional benefits, gardening fosters a sense of confidence, satisfaction, and increases self-esteem.
Gardening also improves hand strength and dexterity and is a low impact exercise. (I don’t know about you, but after pruning and weeding this Spring, my body was telling me the next day that it is really not that low on the impact scale.)
I did not know this, but studies show that dirt contains a natural antidepressant called mycobacterium vaccae. According to research, this particular antidepressant microbe causes cytokine levels to increase, which in turns boosts the production of serotonin.
In addition, gardening helps with dementia. This is because gardening involves so many of our critical functions, including learning, problem-solving, and sensory awareness as well as other restorative benefits for individuals with dementia including improved sleep, reduced agitation and stress and increased calm. Its benefits are likely to not only be therapeutic, but also help with cognition, a sense of responsibility, strength and balance, as well as improved self-esteem in dementia patients.
And of course, my favorite health benefit of gardening - healthier eating! From fresh strawberries to fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions (homemade salsa- yum!) and watermelon. Not only are you eating healthier, in-season, produce, you can also preserve your produce for use over the winter. Eating fruits and vegetables that you have grown yourself, without pesticides and that aren’t transported several times and sprayed or dipped with chemical preservatives offer the best health benefits in nutrition.
And, I don’t know about you, but when I’m in my garden and listening to the tintinnabulation of the wind chimes, my water fountain trickling, birds chirping around me and the sun on my skin, I forget about everything else but the beauty and sounds around me.
Cooking or Baking
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What better way to use all of the vegetables from your garden! Cooking is a great way to relieve stress and it gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Let’s not forget to mention that you get to eat all of the yummy results!
As you are chopping vegetables, you can feel the stress leave your body, you also have to focus on what you are doing whether it is chopping, slicing, following a recipe, measuring and the like, so it forces you to be in the present and not thinking about what you have to do tomorrow or next week.
When you are cooking at home, you are being creative, trying new foods, making healthier meals for yourself and your family because you know what you are putting in your recipe (or NOT putting in it) and also most likely saving money by not eating out or buying processed foods.
When you cook or bake as a family or with friends it creates a time to connect, laugh and get your hands dirty! So not only are you relieving stress, you are reaping the benefits of nutritious meals - double the health benefit!
Journaling or Writing
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Journaling and writing are incredible stress management tools, a good-for-you habit that reduces the impact of physical stressors on your health.
Journaling helps keep your brain in tip-top shape. Not only does it boost memory and comprehension, it also increases working memory capacity, which may reflect improved cognitive processing.
Journaling evokes mindfulness and helps writers remain present while keeping perspective. It presents an opportunity for emotional catharsis. It can help with self-identity and also in the management of personal adversity and change, as well as help the writer discover important patterns and growth in life. I have friends that have kept journals since they were preteens and have reread their journals years later and are surprised at a few things: 1) That something that was so upsetting to them that they wrote about it in their journal ad nauseum - years later they had completely forgotten about 2) how insightful and mature their younger selves actually were and 3) how writing about a situation had helped them see it clearly and objectively which helped them to get through a situation or change their reactions to future events.
What’s more, journaling unlocks and engages right-brained creativity, which gives you access to your full brain power.
If journaling or writing doesn’t come naturally to you, pick up a journal that is written with prompts. You would be surprised at how easy it comes when prompted to write about “a time you avoided your teen crush” or “a time your best friend made you laugh so hard your face hurt.”
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Jigsaw puzzles, no matter the degree of difficulty, challenge your intellectual processes. You exercise your mind as you study the image and its details. As you recognize shapes, colors and patterns, and process them as part of the larger picture, your problem-solving skills are tested.
In a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, puzzles also work your visual-spatial skills as you work through the different pieces, understanding what they are, and how they fit into the rest of the puzzle. Those visual-spatial skills can be a big help with things like driving, packing, and navigating.
Puzzles are great problem-solving activities which support the growth of new nerve cells and can reduce the amount of brain cell damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s patients.
For some, putting together a jig-saw puzzle helps to unwind at the end of the day or is a relaxing hobby, keeping the mind engaged and off of the stressors of everyday life. For some - Sudoku, Crosswords and even computer games or card games like Solitaire are a great way to start the day and get the mind working.
Whichever puzzle you choose - next time you’re worried you’re spending too much time puzzling, think of the puzzle’s preventative health power!
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Whether it is walking, yoga, or just doing some wall push ups while you are waiting for the coffee to brew, moving your body throughout the day is crucial for optimal health and stress relief.
According to the American Association of Anxiety and Depression, scientists have found that regular participation in most forms of exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of anxiety and depression. Even five minutes of exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. Regular movement may also relieve general stress and tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.
Physical activity improves your body’s ability to use oxygen and also improves blood flow, both of which affect your heart health, lymphatic system, brain health and so much more, Exercise also increases your brain’s production of endorphins. Endorphins are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that are responsible for the coveted “runner’s high” - a feeling of well-being and euphoria that many people experience after exercise.
Physical activity can also help take your mind off your worries. The repetitive motions involved in exercise promote a focus on your body, rather than your mind. Focusing on a single physical task can produce a sense of energy and optimism. This focus can help provide calmness and clarity.
Most people notice an improvement in their mood immediately after a workout, however those feelings of wellbeing don’t typically end there. As you commit to a consistent routine that involves movement, your mood stabilizes as well and a happier person is born.
In addition to having a direct effect on your stress levels, regular body movement also promotes optimum health in other ways. Among some of its additional benefits, movement can help:
• strengthen your muscles and bones
• strengthen your immunity, which can decrease your risk of illness and infection
• lower your blood pressure, sometimes as much as some medications
• boost levels of good cholesterol in your blood
• improve your blood circulation
• improve your ability to control weight
• help you sleep better at night
• boost your energy
• improve your self-image
Whichever hobby or hobbies you choose to take up, remember a hobby provides an overall feeling of well-being and discernible health benefits immediately; however learning a new hobby/hobbies is also an investment in your physical and mental health for years to come.
Some amazing hobbies that have little or no cost:
• Walking, hiking
• Bird watching
• Watching documentaries
• Learning a new language
• Playing card games, computer games, crossword puzzles
• Music or Songwriting
• Knitting or crocheting
Hobbies that require a bit of cost - but are so worth it!:
• Learning to play an instrument
• Beer or wine-making
• Learning to cook
• Cake decorating
• Soap or lotion making
• Jewelry making
• Collecting or Antiquing
• Furniture refinishing or repurposing
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Margaret Strause is the Director of Front End Sales and Marketing, as well as a buyer and merchandiser for Hometown Pharmacy. Stop by one of our stores to shop our exceptional home decor, clothing, gifts, and so much more.