Modern life can be very stressful if you let it run over you. We’re working longer hours than any generation before us, and we’re ‘on-call’ almost twenty-four hours a day thanks to the internet and the fact that our work emails now find their way onto our personal phones. We can connect to the office when we’re at home, and because we can do that, there’s a constant temptation there to ‘get ahead with work’ during times when we’re off the clock and ought to be relaxing. That’s why having a good hobby is essential in order to keep the worst symptoms of stress at bay.
The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that we specifically said ‘good hobby’ there as opposed to just ‘hobby.’ That because there are such things as good hobbies and bad hobbies when it comes to stress. A good hobby is one that relaxes you and helps you forget about work. A bad hobby is one that involves any degree of competition or might cause anxiety.
Most sports, from soccer down to a humble game of darts, can be bad hobbies in the wrong circumstances. Gambling is also a ‘bad hobby’ from a stress point of view. There is no issue with using an online slots website for entertainment when you’re feeling fine, but nobody should play online slots when they’re already stressed. The uncertain nature of the outcome of online slots games is bound to heighten any sense of anxiety you’re feeling, and that’s the opposite of the effect you’re looking for. When you’re in the right state of mind, play all the competitive sports games and online slots your heart desires. If you’re feeling a little strained, try one of the five suggestions we’re about to make instead.
As an aside, we’re going to skip yoga because every health and wellness website article you’ve ever read extols the virtues of yoga. We’ll assume you already know about those, and we’ll look at other alternatives!
There are two benefits to taking up gardening as a hobby. The first is that it will make your garden, your balcony, or the garden inside of your apartment a prettier and happier place to be. The second is that the benefits of gardening to your mental health are well documented, and proven by science. Gardening lowers your cortisol levels, and it’s cortisol that’s making you stressed in the first place. Nurturing a plant from birth to full bloom provides you with a sense of accomplishment, and caring for another living thing – even if it is only a flower – is a soothing experience. It’s also one of the most low-cost, low-intensity hobbies you could ever become involved in, which is why we’re listing it first. Most spaces would be improved by the introduction of a few pot plants or flowers, so why not improve yours?
Baking is a lot cooler than it used to be. Twenty years ago, baking was something that your grandmother did, but since “The Great British Baking Show” became such a big deal that the news of one of the hosts leaving the show merits an article in the Washington Post, everyone wants to learn how to bake. We don’t usually suggest jumping aboard every trend that rolls through town, but there are worse trends to get on board with than this one. According to people who are better qualified than us to make these comparisons, certain aspects of the baking process can be compared to meditation. As a bonus, you’re learning a new skill and probably improving your diet in the process. Why purchase mass-produced baked goods from the store when you can make them at home from ingredients you’ve selected yourself?
Remember being told that video games were bad for you when you were a child? Well, as it turns out, the reverse might be true. A research team from Texas A&M University studied the effects of prolonged periods of playing video games on adults, and the results surprised them. Instead of the adverse effects they anticipated finding, their research indicated that playing video games gave their subjects better problem-solving skills, lower levels of depression, and better resilience against stress. There was no gender or age divide in the findings; everyone appeared to benefit equally. Obviously, you’ll have to choose your games wisely – nobody’s suggesting that staying up all night playing the latest ‘Resident Evil’ survival horror game is the best thing for your nerves – but something more gentle might bring your stress levels down.
Maybe our grandparents were better at dealing with stress than we all imagined. Aside from baking, many of them also knitted regularly. Whether they were aware of it or not, the simple, repetitive process of knitting encouraged their brains to focus on the moment, and enter an almost trance-like state of contemplation during which serotonin is released into the brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that makes you happy. You’ll be down in the dumps when there’s too little of it, and hyperactive when there’s a surplus of it. For small, regular, manageable amounts, knitting is about as positive a hobby as you could hope to find. Also, winter is coming, and you’ll be glad of all the warm clothes and scarves you make for yourself as you’re learning how to knit.
Yes, we know you’re reading this article right now. No, that doesn’t count. Reading computer screens all day is terrible for our eyes, as any optician will happily tell you. Reading a book quietly is not, and book-reading is a hobby that far too many of us appear to have abandoned. A study performed by the University of Sussex in England suggests that as little as six minutes of reading time per day is enough to reduce stress levels. More extended periods of reading have been shown to reduce the levels of tension in your muscles, which is good for your heart. If you’re tense and anxious, you can literally read until you’re calm again. We’ve all got a list of books that we’ve been meaning to get around to reading one of these days. Right now is as good a time as any to start.
Those are our five suggestions for right now but don’t worry if none of them appeal to you. You could always revert to yoga!