Unfortunately, none of us are immune to anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, financial status, age, or literally anything else that can define a person’s position in society. The fact is, no matter who you are, life will never stop being unpredictable and anxiety-inducing from time to time. So whether you’re one of the 40 million American adults who deals with an anxiety disorder, or your anxiety is almost always tied to a stressful life event, (like breakups or final exams) you should probably take some time to learn about the types of hobbies that can reduce anxiety.
Personally, I’ve always been an anxious person. My first anxiety attack happened at seven years old, and my first depressive episode happened at 12. Because of this, I’m fairly well-acquainted with the many ways you can reduce anxiety and depression naturally. That said, what has historically worked for me might not work for you. So instead of just telling you to get high and go to the gym like I often do when my anxiety is out of control, I reached out to an anxiety expert. Luckily, Barrie Sueskind, MFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping clients overcome anxiety, agreed to speak with Bustle about the hobbies that can alleviate anxiety.
Here are a few of the hobbies that Sueskind suggests to anyone who’s suffering from anxiety.
Painting & Journaling
If you start feeling anxious during your downtime, Sueskind suggests taking the night off of social media so you can embrace your inner artist. Sueskind also says it's not a bad idea for anyone suffering from anxiety to delete all social media apps from their phones. Instead of logging hours of precious free time scrolling your Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr/Facebook feeds, Sueskind says you should instead "try something creative — paint or do some writing."
Personally, I've found that painting while listening to Edith Piaf and drinking wine always sorts me out. (Though wine can increase anxiety if you're not properly hydrated, so maybe double-fist your booze with water.) Working your way through a coloring book or journaling your thoughts can be just as soothing. The point is, even if you don't think of yourself as highly creative, it's worth your mental health to find a creative hobby that you'll enjoy.
Reading For Fun Or Watching An Engaging TV Show
Sueskind tells Bustle that one of the best ways to distract yourself from your own worries is to redirect your focus onto the concerns of others — whether those concerns are real or imagined. So if you don't have a library card or an active Netflix account, you might want to remedy that. Sueskind points out that, sometimes, relieving anxiety can be as simple as taking the time to "read an engaging book (or find a tv show you love) so you can lose yourself in other people's stories for awhile." If you're rarely in the mood to watch TV or sit still with a novel for hours, fiction podcasts (like Welcome to Night Vale) and audio books are a couple of alternative options to consider.
Spending Time Outdoors
Spending time in nature is my personal go-to for relieving anxiety, primarily because it mixes movement with exposure to the sun. According to Sueskind, I'm on the right track with this. "Fresh air and sunlight are proven mood boosters." Whether you choose to hike, bike, or bird-watch, you should know that outdoor hobbies are super-effective at alleviating anxiety. Further, if you're one of the many anxiety sufferers who also deals with depression, getting outside on a daily basis will benefit your mental health even further.
So don't let winter weather keep you from enjoying the great outdoors. In my experience, as long as you're properly bundled, the cold actually feels pretty fantastic.
A huge part of managing anxiety is learning how to conquer the chaos in your head, and mindful hobbies can help you achieve this goal. Hobbies that force you to be more present are great, because they can help you stay grounded when it feels like anxious thoughts are figuratively attacking your brain. "Mindfulness practices — like yoga, meditation, or even going for a walk or hike — can help slow racing or unwanted thoughts," Sueskind says.
As someone who sits all day for work, I've found that walking meditation does more to relieve my anxiety than yoga or stationary meditation. That said, yoga is essentially free medicine, and you can do it without ever leaving your home. The same things can be said of stationary meditation, too. So if you need help figuring out how to meditate while sitting still, (because finding your center can actually be really difficult sometimes) then check out this article on meditation for beginners.
Since it's no secret that exercise is good for anxiety, I highly doubt this hobby recommendation comes as a great surprise to you. That said, even though we all know exercise eases anxiety, not everyone gets jazzed about fitness. So if you (like myself) genuinely enjoy exercise, awesome. Keep doing what you're doing. If you feel like working out is basically just torturing yourself to a killer soundtrack, then you might want to try signing up for badass, goal-oriented fitness classes (like martial arts or hip-hop dancing) that you'll actually be excited to show up for.
Taking Self-Improvement Classes
It's hard enough to juggle work, alone time, self-care, and socializing without adding a weekly class into the mix. However, if you're looking for hobbies that can combat anxiety, you should at least try to squeeze in a self-improvement class once in awhile.
Whether you want to get better at cooking, brush up on your Spanish, or earn your pilot's license, Sueskind says taking classes is a must for anxious people. If you start spending more of your time and energy on self-improvement, then you'll simultaneously boost your self-esteem and distract yourself from whatever triggers your anxiety. As Sueskind explains it, "Learning a new skill will require you to focus on the task at hand." So not only will taking classes empower you as a person, this particular hobby should help minimize the hold anxiety has over you and your life.