The power of a hobby in improving mental health and wellbeing

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At the end of the workday, my brain is often broken.

As a writer and media specialist, I spend much of my time researching and trying to understand a range of topics, many of them complicated and unfamiliar.

This often takes its toll on my mind and come most evenings, it’s safe to assume I’m lying prostrate on the couch or the floor, cuddling my cat.

However, in the evenings when I can still mildly function, I love to paint.

Whether it’s filling out my travel sketchbook (I paint some of my favorite holiday photos, most recently from Japan), or drawing portraits of interesting people, it’s a task that enables me to concentrate on something other than an intellectual or work-related pursuit while still engaging my brain.

Art has been a life-long passion of mine, and one in which I have dabbled for more than 25 years. You could say painting – mainly in watercolor, but sometimes in acrylics – is my hobby.

As a child, I would spend hours drawing my favorite cartoon characters or animals, pencils and erasers splayed across the floor or table. As an adult, I try and set aside time each week to sit down, spread out on our big kitchen table and paint to my heart’s content.

A HOBBY IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

It turns out, the positive and calm feeling I get following a painting session are shared with others who also have hobbies.

In today’s hyper-connected digital world, where the expectation to work (either internal or external) constantly plagues our already over-stimulated minds, adding a hobby to our endless to-do list may seem like an impossible feat.

Yet there is ample evidence that hobbies not only enhance productivity at work, but that the break they afford from work – or the mere fact that you’re doing something different  – can weaken the preconceived associations that often lead to a rut, and improve problem-solving by revealing a new approach or an overlooked detail.

Because hobbies are usually tasks that can be completed in a relatively short time (you can finish a painting in a few hours, swim 50 laps in one hour or make a few cups in one pottery class), they can provide a sense of accomplishment when you’re feeling frustrated with how long a particular work project is taking.

On the health side, research shows that participation in leisure contributes significantly to physical and mental wellbeing, from reduced blood pressure to a sense of belonging.

So, while it may seem like just another responsibility to add to a never-ending list of tasks, making time for a hobby, and sticking to it, can enhance every part of your life, including work.

For instance, Curtin University researchers found that employees who engage in sporting, learning and volunteering activities outside work are more likely to get a better night’s sleep and be more proactive in their job.

MAKING TIME FOR A HOBBY

For those who already have a hobby and simply need strategies to find the time for it, time management guru and author Laura Vanderkam says it’s all a matter of mindset and priorities.

In her book I Know How She Does It, Vanderkam got hundreds of women to log how many hours they worked per day, how much time they spent on leisure and how many hours they spent with their families.

What she found was heartening: we tend to overestimate how much we work, and often count hours wasted scrolling through social media posts as work. This means we actually have a lot more time than we think to dedicate to activities we find enjoyable.

Vanderkam argues that if we think of our time on a weekly basis (in 168-hour blocks, and not 24-hour blocks) and bring awareness to our daily activities, we can take control of our time and not only advance in our careers, enjoy family activities, but also pursue our passions.

If you’re someone who is looking for a hobby but don’t quite know where to start, here are some tips: think back to your childhood and remember what you liked to do. Was it singing? Dancing? Painting? Netball? Reconnect with that childhood passion and if it still brings you a thrill, google some short courses or social teams and sign up.

There are hundreds of hobbies out there, and millions of people searching for something more than just work and Netflix.

Turns out finding one that brings you joy will also be good for your wellbeing.

This article first appeared on She Defined.