When we talk about self-care, we think about it as this luxury piece of time that we have to carve out every single day.
It’s drummed into us that we should be taking long soaks in a lavender bath and having time to rest and while yes, that would be nice, it’s not the only form of self care and frankly it doesn’t work for everyone.
Self-care doesn’t just come in the forms of rest and bubble baths, having a movie day with pizza or hitting the gym. Sometimes and possibly more often, it comes in the form of hobbies.
If you find that you actually end up exercising more when you’re having fun (running around after the kids, dancing in the kitchen etc.) you’re not alone and I truly believe the same applies to self-care.
We all need play in our lives, even if we’re leaning a skill at the same time.
Hobbies provide that for us.
Skill and play that doesn’t require you to be good at them right away or even ever, that don’t require you to monetise them and don’t feel like a chore.
What are the benefits of having hobbies for mental health?
Having a hobby that brings joy and purpose into your life has been shown to improve mental health and wellbeing.
Research has shown that having hobbies can reduce stress and lower blood pressure and people who participate in a hobby can feel a positive affect even days later.
If you also pick up a hobby that takes you outside, just think of all the added benefits that comes with.
I mean, I don’t know about where you live but here in the UK we’re all a bit Vitamin D deficient, especially in the winter. So as much time spent outside the better.
Even without all the chemical and physical benefits, isn’t it just nice to have something to look forward to or to keep your mind active and engaged?
Hobbies can either get you reconnected with nature, give you a chance to meet new people or get some well needed solitude and a break from all the noise and chatter.
Walking / hiking
Walking or hiking is one of my favourite hobbies for mental health.
Not only is it incredible exercise, if not the best exercise, but the benefits of walking seem to be endless.
Do you ever come back from a walk feeling clearer headed? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment and peace? Well, imagine that being your hobby.
Having something that uses up a lot of your pent up stress, adrenaline and anxiety and replaces them with good happy feelings.
Why is walking so good for mental health?
As well as being great exercise (which is always beneficial for mental health) walking is great for your mental health for many other reasons, including:
Reduction in stress and anxiety
Improvement in energy levels
Increases mental alertness
How do I get started?
If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of going for 8 mile hikes and walking through tough terrain, I get it.
You don’t need to start off big. You don’t need fancy hiking equipment or 4 hours of free time to do a big massive walk.
Just start off small. Set the timer on you phone to go off after 15 minutes and just walk from your house in any direction.
If the timer goes off and you feel like carrying on, then carry on.
But I think telling yourself that you only need to do it for 15 minutes, or you only need to start off with a walk around the block, really helps to cut out the need for too much motivation.
The first step (pardon the pun) is just getting out of the house in the first place. Especially if you’re feeling low.
How do I make walking a fully fledged hobby?
Once you’re into the swing of walking and you want to make it more of a hobby, you might want to start planning some bigger walks.
As an avid walker I would fully recommend the following:
Good walking shoes
I practically LIVE in my hiking boots.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time walking or hiking, then proper footwear is essential.
If your budget isn’t massive or you don’t want to spend too much upfront in case you don’t actually walk enough, then it doesn’t need to be expensive.
I bought my hiking boots from Sports Direct in the sale and they were about 50% off. Or you could even go second hand on Vinted.
Fitbit or tracker
I like to wear a Fitbit when I go walking (I don’t always bother or remember) because it makes me feel a sense of achievement when I look at how many steps or miles I’ve done.
Even if you’re not particularly concerned about the miles you’re putting in, sometimes it helps to track the first few walks to give you a sense of how many hours it takes you to do X amount of miles.
It also helps you to track progress.
But these aren’t essential and if you’d rather just switch off and enjoy the walk then leave the tech at home.
As much as I hate organising and planning because it has the potential to make something dull as dishwater, I do absolutely LOVE using a trail app to plan a new route.
It kinda feels like a game for me.
Find a new route map, follow the gps and then take pictures along the way of things that I see.
Also if you’re completely rubbish with directions like I am, this will help you find somewhere to go for a proper good nature walk without getting lost.
Walk in all weather
This isn’t a ‘thing’ you need, this is just a general tip from one walker to another.
Don’t shy away from what is considered as “bad weather”.
Yes walking in the sunshine as a plethora of benefits but so does walking in the rain.
Actually, walking in the rain is my favourite.
It gives me a sense of peace and calm like nothing else but also, most people hate the rain so there’s never anyone else around. DOUBLE WIN!
Open water swimming
I could bang on about the effects of swimming all day, being in the water is where I feel most calm and carefree.
My favourite place to swim is the sea, specifically the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.
I get up at drive down to the coast at 4.30am and get in the sea and wait for the sunrise. There is nothing like floating around the ocean with pink skies above you and the sun rising above the cliffs.
Now, swimming in general is a good hobby for mental health, so if you’re unable to do open water swimming but you have the ability to swim in a pool… absolutely go for it, it will do you the world of good.
The reason that I would recommend open water swimming if you can do it, is because being outdoors and being in colder water has a lot of other additional benefits.
Why is open water swimming good for mental health?
There’s plenty of research that suggests even being near water has a plethora of benefits.
The blue colour of the water being calming, the reflections heightening our exposure to light and the sound of crashing waves.
So then, when you add actually swimming in the stuff, there’s a whole host of increased benefits such as:
Boosts brain health
Helps you respond to stress better in every day life
Clears your head
How to get started
If you’re not already a strong swimmer, perhaps consider starting in a lido and then moving onto a still body of water before you go into the sea.
The sea can be dangerous and unpredictable, so confidence in your swimming ability is a must, especially if you’re swimming on a beach with no lifeguards or at off peak times where there aren’t any people around.
If you’re more comfortable swimming with others, check out local outdoor swimming clubs or ask a friend to join you.
Things to consider
Check surf reports
Before going for a sea swim, I always read the surf report for the day.
And YES for two months I accidentally went by the surf report for a same-named beach in Taiwan instead of the UK (I thought the water was a bit choppier than the report said it was gonna be) but let’s not focus on that shall we.
If you want to make sure you will be safe in the water ahead of time, check out Magic Seaweed.
Check out the tide times
If you’re sea swimming, it’s really important to ensure that the tide is right for your swim.
Some high tides could leave you stranded on the beach. Give yourself enough time to have your swim and safely vacate the beach.
While some low tides aren’t suitable for swimming at all.
So it’s a very important part of planning your swim.
Consider a waterproof pouch
I always take my phone in the sea with me. It goes into a waterproof pouch and is secured by a lanyard around my neck – which I then tuck into my swimming costume for extra security.
That way I have some assurance that if for whatever reason I end up being dragged out to sea by a strong rip tide, that I have my phone with me.
It also means I can keep my keys and bank card with me and not leave them on the beach with my bag/towels.
Another great exercise related hobby (unless your preferred sport is snooker of course) to get the endorphins going.
I have zero experience with sports as I just never got into anything like that myself – I blame the fact that I hate rules – but sports is a lifeline for a lot of my friends.
What are the benefits of sports for mental health?
Gets you to think tactically
Provides a good distraction from negative thoughts
Decreases anxiety, stress and symptoms of depression
Provides social connection
How to get started
The great thing about sports is that there are clubs everywhere for all kinds of different sports.
You’ll easily be able to find a club to join.
Or you could get some friends together who like the same sports as you to practice.
If we’re talking about hobbies for mental health then we need to discuss gardening.
It’s been proven time and time again that gardening is incredible for your mind.
Being outdoors has so many benefits but the act of gardening brings even more to that table.
What are the benefits of gardening for mental health?
Seeing your plants grow gives you a sense of achievement and purpose
Improves attention span (I can attest to this one)
How to get started
Gardening always seemed easier to me than it actually is, to the point that when I first got my own garden I went and bought every plant in the garden centre and potted them, watered them and watched most of them die – whoops.
Yep, gardening is a lot harder than it looks.
Which actually makes it a great hobby because you’re learning a skill while doing something therapeutic.
If you’re a complete beginner, then start of much smaller than I did.
Just one plant will do to start with.
Learn everything there is to learn about that plant and how to keep it alive and then do your best to put that in motion.
When people hear crafting, I think their mind generally goes to making jewellery, scrapbooking or knitting.
Which are all great hobbies but it doesn’t necessarily have to be any of those.
It could be woodwork, cosplay costume design, upcycling, anything.
talk about distraction, keeping mind and hands occupied, good for stimming/nervous energy etc.
What are the benefits of crafting for mental health?
Keeps your mind busy
Often includes repetitive movements, good for self stimulation
Reduces stress and anxiety
Improves concentration and mindfulness
How to get started
Is there anything you really want to make?
Pinterest and YouTube have endless amounts of tutorials and guides on crafting.
It couldn’t be easier to learn a craft than it is now.
As some of you may know, photography started off as a hobby for me many years ago.
I have now been a professional photographer for nearly 14 years, so I guess you can’t class it as a hobby anymore but I still actively pursue more creative photography projects to keep the passion alive.
I will warn you, photography is addictive and can get expensive! Sorry ’bout that.
The biggest thing photography as a hobby did for me was it forced me out of the house and to interact socially with other people.
My camera became my mask at first, until I was confident enough both with or without the camera.
My camera is still like my superhero suit though. As soon as I put my harness on and strap my cameras to myself, I feel like I can take on the world.
What are the benefits of photography as a hobby for mental health?
Gets you out of the house
Teaches you both technical and creative skill which is great brain food
Teaches you the art of trial and error (which is an important lesson if you’re naturally a perfectionist)
There can often be a social aspect to photography
A sense of confidence when you have created a great picture.
How to get started
You don’t need the best, most latest equipment to get started.
It could be as simple as using your phone camera but doing it with more intention.
Learning how to compose a good photo with your phone and learning that ‘photographers eye’ is a fabulous way to get started.
If you’d like to get more technical and can’t afford a fancy camera right away, you could always try buying secondhand.
I’d recommend using a camera retailer such as Wex or MPB that specialises in selling second hand equipment rather than eBay or Facebook marketplace.
As far as hobbies for mental health go, writing is a fantastic one.
Writing stories, poetry, articles etc. can be enormously therapeutic.
This is something I love to do (writing poetry especially) to get out all of the feels.
Why is writing good for mental health?
Decreases anxiety, stress & symptoms of depression
Provides an alternative method of communication
Can be used as an escape into another world
How to get started
This may be the most budget friendly and easiest hobby to get started with because all you need..