It seems as though we, as a society, are more stressed than ever before. This may be due to the economy, health problems, or a lifestyle that doesn’t prioritize self-care. You probably know that being stressed doesn’t feel good. But, you may not be aware of the many negative health effects of stress.
When you’re stressed, you may experience headaches, insomnia, rapid heart rate, and an upset stomach. However, there are even more serious consequences of chronic stress. These include a higher risk for hypertension, heart attack, stroke, a weakened immune system, and autoimmune disorders. In fact, stress affects all systems of the body and mind.
If you would like to remain in good health, it would be wise to find ways to de-stress. Fortunately, there are quite a few hobbies that are known to effectively reduce stress. Most of them are inexpensive and can be done at any time. Here are nine such hobbies that you may be interested in trying.
Reading is something we all do daily, but reading as a hobby is less commonplace. It has been proven to be very relaxing, though. Reading can help you to forget about all the stressful things you’re dealing with in your life. Not only can you get caught up in a character’s story or a fantasy world, but the very act of reading itself requires concentration. This distraction eases stress by 68%, according to one study.
What’s even more amazing is that it only takes six minutes of reading to notice a difference. It doesn’t really matter what you read, but if you suffer from depression, self-help books have been shown to be effective.
Many of us experience stress, but don’t deal with it effectively. Sometimes, we don’t even acknowledge that we are stressed until we become seriously ill. If you aren’t comfortable speaking to others, writing may be an effective way to deal with your stress and other negative emotions associated with a particular event.
Studies show that people who had traumatic experiences felt less stress after writing expressively about it. There are multiple proposed theories as to why this may be. One suggests that it allows people to organize their thoughts and give meaning to their experiences. Another suggests that it allows you to finally acknowledge a previously suppressed experience, paving the way for you to move forward. Finally,
those who are honest with themselves about their experience are more likely to open up to others.
Painting or Coloring
When we are young, we are constantly engaged in creative activities, such as drawing, painting, and making crafts. As we grow older, many of us stop pursuing the arts. But, it may be a good idea to get back into it as research has shown that it may be beneficial to do art. In fact, one study showed that just 45 minutes of making art (drawing, clay modelling, and so on) lowered cortisol levels in 75% of participants. This effect did not depend on prior art experience. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you can paint like an expert — all that matters is that you paint.
So, how exactly does art help to relieve stress? Well, it provides a distraction from your problems, helps you to express your emotions and allows you to experience flow. This refers to a state in which you are so immersed in an activity, you lose track of everything else. It has similar benefits to meditation.
When you think of gardening as a hobby and less of a chore, it can actually reduce stress. You really have the chance to appreciate the beauty of the natural world and engage in mindfulness (being in the present moment) when you are gardening. Research has shown that spending time outdoors can help restore your attention, relax your body, and improve your mood.
Gardening can be considered a creative hobby, since you often have to plan certain designs or choose which colors of plants go well together. As we’ve seen with art, research shows that engaging in a creative pastime can effectively reduce stress.
Yoga is one of the most popular and effective ways to relieve stress. This is because it combines physical poses with controlled breathing and meditation. Studies show that just 12 minutes of yoga daily for eight weeks reduced inflammation and DNA reactions which cause stress.
There are various forms of yoga, including hatha yoga (which is what most of us imagine when we think of yoga) and hot yoga (which is done in a humid room). You can learn yoga from online resources or books, but taking a class may be more beneficial since it provides you with the opportunity to make new friends.
Playing an Instrument
Many of us listen to music when we need to clear our minds and relax. Not surprisingly, playing an instrument also reduces stress. This is especially true if you do not approach making music seriously —great news for those of us who aren’t musical prodigies. Making music is considered a creative hobby, similar to painting or making crafts.
Studies show that playing an instrument for just one hour a week for six weeks lowers the stress response. It doesn’t matter which instrument you play, either — all that matters is that you enjoy it. However, stringed instruments, drums, and flutes have been found to be very effective.
If you’d rather listen to music than create it, that’s okay, too! But, if you’d like to further reduce your stress levels, be sure to dance along. Dancing reduces stress through multiple mechanisms. Of course, it’s a physical activity, so it raises your levels of endorphins (the “feel good” chemicals which relieve stress). In fact, it’s a great alternative for those who dread working out.
Dancing can also be creative, since you decide which moves to do and when to do them. You can also be creative when choosing or designing dance costumes, and picking which music to play. Dancing is a way to express your emotions and to connect with others as well.
Hiking is a relatively cheap hobby that you can do when the weather is good. The great thing about hiking is that there are various levels — from a gentle walk to trekking up a mountain. Regardless of the level you choose, you will reap the stress-relieving benefits.
As briefly mentioned above, numerous studies suggest that being outdoors relieves stress and reduces rumination (a thought pattern associated with depression). There may be many reasons for this. First of all, being outdoors is generally associated with physical activity, which increases endorphins. Secondly, it allows you to disconnect from technology and reconnect with the natural world. We now know that being on social media is associated with depression and stress (perhaps due to comparisons and feelings of inadequacy). Finally, surrounding yourself with nature provides you with the perfect setting to practice mindfulness.
Baking or Cooking
Maybe you’re confused by this one. You might be thinking, “Cooking is stressful! I hate having to do it after a long day at work!” But, if you actually enjoy cooking, it can be a great stress reliever. Of course, if you’re cooking a nourishing meal, it can improve your brain and mental health too.
Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and magnesium are known to improve mental functions. The process of cooking itself also provides you with an opportunity for practicing mindfulness and expressing your creativity. It’s even better if you cook with your partner, friends, or children.