If You Have Anxiety, Experts Say These 13 Hobbies Can Really Help
While there are lots of ways to manage anxiety, picking up a relaxing hobby or two can be a great way to relieve some of its symptoms, such as feeling excess stress, racing thoughts, and nervousness. These hobbies include activities that are quite literally relaxing, like knitting and journaling. And even more surprising ones, that just might help get you out of your head.
"Anxiety is often caused by chronic arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, and can be a result of sustained, high stress," Jodi Rose Gonzales, ATR, NCC, RYT200, a credentialed art therapist and yoga instructor, with expertise in using unique approaches to address anxiety, tells Bustle. "Symptoms are often associated with the body's fight-or-flight mechanism, and can include elevated baseline heart and breath rate, as well as other panic-like symptoms such as a lightheaded or 'floaty' feeling, sweaty palms, disturbed digestion, and difficulty with concentration."
To manage these symptoms, it can help to find a therapist so you can chat with them about what's going on, and learn coping mechanisms. But picking up a hobby can also relieve anxiety by giving you something productive to do with your spare time, providing an outlet for anxious thoughts, and possibly even soothing symptoms. Read on for some hobbies to consider, which experts say can all help with anxiety.
1. Walking In Nature
Sometimes finding a new hobby can be as easy as walking outside. "Research has shown that being outside in the sun and in nature is soothing to our brains," Richard M. Burleigh, a provisional licensed professional counselor, with a masters of science in clinical mental health counseling, tells Bustle. "It allows us to soak in natural vitamins and helps us to feel grounded in our environment, no pun intended."
To reap the benefits, you can stroll around your neighborhood, walk in the park, or go on a hike. These activities will also force you to slow down and pace yourself, Burleigh says, which can help ease anxiety symptoms.
"Helping others makes people feel very good about themselves and also enables us to see things outside of our own perspective," Jennifer L. Silvershein, LCSW, founder and psychotherapist at Manhattan Wellness, tells Bustle, which can be quite comforting if you have anxiety.
"When we are supporting others we are able to focus on their needs which will quiet an anxious mind," Silvershein says. "Helping someone else enables the helper to feel in control, which also reduces anxiety symptoms."
A simple internet search can turn up all sorts of volunteer opportunities near you, from serving food to those in need, to walking shelter dogs, to picking up litter.
"Journaling can provide a healthy outlet for our thoughts," Dr. Erika Velez, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. And that may be just what you need if you're dealing with anxiety. "It can provide us with a means to reflect on our thought patterns and 'put down' the mental load that is often associated with anxiety," she says.
To begin journaling, simply get out some paper or open your laptop, and get to writing. You can list five things that happened in your day, or simply write freely until you feel like stopping. Easy as that.
While you may not have colored since your elementary school days, experts say unearthing all those old colored pencils may be worth it.
"When our attention is placed on a soothing act, such as coloring, our body usually relaxes along with our mind," Velez says. "Our thoughts are centered on the task at hand and keep us engaged to the soothing act of creating art."
It doesn't matter if you're good at drawing or coloring, either. Simply kicking back and enjoying the process is what'll be most soothing — not the final result.
Stretching, or even going all out and doing a few yoga poses, is something else to consider adding to your routine. So if you don't already, this may be a habit worth picking up. You can do stretches at home, follow along to a few YouTube videos, or even sign up for yoga classes at a local gym.
"Yoga is a helpful exercise and hobby known to help reduce anxiety," Velez says. "It brings you into the present moment and centers your thoughts [...] As your breathing and body become more controlled, the mind follows suit."
6. Getting Creative
Like coloring, other types of creativity can be helpful in managing anxiety. "Painting, journaling, writing fictional stories, and reading are all methods of decreasing anxiety symptoms," Burleigh says. "These creative outlets allow you to create your own world outside of your worries and fears."
Again, even if you aren't a "good writer" or an "artist" you can still feel free to pick up paper and paints and start experimenting. As Burleigh says, "The creative possibilities are endless."
Believe it or not not, productive hobbies, such as digitizing old photos, can be exceptionally soothing. So if you have boxes of them lying around, consider taking on the task.
"Develop a repetitive system: photo in scanner, move to computer, scan the photo, listen to the scanner, save the file, exchange the photo on the scanner bed, repeat," Gonzales says. "The repetition of movement and sound (you will hear the scanner) can be calming."
From there, you can continue organizing other areas of your life, as a productive (and relaxing) way to unwind.
Creative activities have been demonstrated to reduce heart rate, while also decreasing the production of the body's stress hormone cortisol, Gonzales says. And the same is true of the mental focus needed to complete a project, which can move you into a meditative state.
"Further, hobbies that include light movement, rhythm, or repetition, such as knitting or crocheting, have especially calming effects," she says.
9. Styling Your Hair
If you're feeling anxious, consider styling your hair or doing your makeup. Both of these hobbies are things many people do on a daily basis, Gorgeous West, APC, NCC, a licensed associate professional counselor and national certified counselor, tells Bustle. And doing something familiar can help reduce anxiety.
As a side benefit, these hobbies can also be quite productive, West says, as well as something you can do solo or with a friend. Even if you don't have anywhere to go, it's a nice way to pass the time.
"Exercising, however you enjoy, is a great way to distract and reduce anxious thoughts due to focusing on something else," Jennifer L. Silvershein, LCSW, psychotherapist and founder of Manhattan Wellness, tells Bustle. "It also enables endorphins to be released that cause happiness, which can also combat anxiety symptoms."
But you don't need to do traditional exercises in order for it to work, if those don't feel right. Going to a dance class, riding your bike, hiking in the woods, or even playing with your dog are all fun ways to move around, and hopefully manage anxiety.
11. Cooking & Baking
Even if you aren't the best at cooking or baking, these might be hobbies worth getting into, if only for their ability to relieve stress. "It's important to mention that anxiety is driven by ruminating or intrusive thoughts," Diana Trevino, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist with a focus on trauma and anxiety, tells Bustle. "So any activity that allows a shift of focus away from the mind is beneficial in calming anxiety."
Again, you won't want to focus so much on the outcome, but the process. If you end up with delicious food at the end, consider it a bonus.
12. Playing Games
"Whether it be video games, board games, or a crossword puzzle, our minds love engaging with play, which allows us to focus on the game and get out of our heads," Justine Mastin, MA, LMFT, LADC, E-RYT 200, therapist and owner of Blue Box Counseling, tells Bustle. "Video games and board games especially give the opportunity for both engagement with the game as well as with others, which might be a challenge for folks who deal with anxiety."
Look for games that follow a narrative, Mastin says, since they can help you make sense of the world, provide meaning, and allow for feelings of contentment (or at least reduced anxiety).
Whether you're growing plants in the window or weeding an entire backyard, there's plenty of anxiety-relief to be had in gardening.
As Trevino says, the act of pulling weeds can reduce stress through physical exertion, while gardening and feeling the soil and the sun can be relaxing. All these shift away from anxious thoughts and focuses on our other senses, she says, which helps to quiet the mind and therefore, reduce anxiety.
So if you're looking for another way to manage anxiety, experts say these hobbies may be a good place to start.