How hobbies can improve your mental health

by Ana Lopez

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

The pandemic affected our work-life balance, leading to higher rates of stress, anxiety and burnout. And the staff responded. They began to prioritize their mental well-being and were more likely to leave, report lower job satisfaction, feel disengaged, and experience toxic workplace behaviors at companies that have not responded to this shift. Businesses across all industries were racing to keep up.

But promoting employee mental well-being is more than a way to recruit and retain talent; it’s good for business results. And hobbies can help. Studies show that hobbies can improve mood and make us happier and more relaxed. They can also make us better employees. It’s not just okay to take the time to invest in the personal enjoyment of hobbies: it’s more than okay. It’s a good investment in yourself.

Related: Now is the time to start embracing mental health in the workplace

Take responsibility for generating small acts of joy

Mental health is a complex and multifaceted subject and we all experience well-being to varying degrees and at different times in our lives. No single solution will be right for everyone. Still, we can at least in a small way gain some control over our own fulfillment and satisfaction by pursuing hobbies. A study found that days after participating we still feel the positive effect and bloom of creative activities, such as hobbies. Luck is a powerful method of pushing away opponents of mental well-being and the more we can use that power the better.

But also hobbies improve our skills in the workplace. Giving ourselves the mental space to focus on what makes us feel good stimulates creativity, opens the mind to new perspectives and builds confidence; one study found such results already after 45 minutes of activity. Some hobbiesActivities, such as playing an instrument, reading, or solving crossword puzzles, can improve memory and executive function. Whatever your interests – from painting to baking, in groups or alone – find a meaningful and enjoyable activity to turn into a regular hobby and avoid negative emotions while strengthening your professional skills.

Related: Why Personal Goals and Hobbies Are Essential to a Fulfilling Career

Share in hobbies to spread joy to others

Participating in hobbies we enjoy can help keep ourselves a little happier, but sharing them spreads that joy to others. My husband has recently become a Lego fanatic. Or at least, I only found out recently. It wasn’t until I went to his second-floor office to get it ready for the host company over Christmas that I saw what he’d built: an entire Christmas village, complete with Santa Claus and a working railroad, out of Lego.

I was so taken with it that we decided to make it part of our annual Christmas decorations. I put it in the middle of the dining room so he would know that I wanted this hobby, which brought him so much joy, to become a core part of our world. He benefited from hours of productive time alone, happy and content, then amplified the effects of his hobbies by sharing them with others. All the kids loved hearing how he constructed those 2,000 pieces into that masterpiece, and he loved to tell them about it.

But while many people want to make time for hobbies, few do. Some companies actively build and nurture employee hobbies with employee talent shows or art galleries. But business leaders can make simple efforts to support employee hobbies, even making it something we talk about: ask what your team members do and invite them to share stories about those fun experiences. As leaders, we can also spend time on our own hobbies and talk about them with our teams to lead by example.

Related: Why Your Mental Health Is Key To Your Success In Business

It’s never too late to find a hobby

This brings me to people like me, adults, even leaders, who don’t have a hobby. Nowadays it seems like all I do is work. I used to enjoy gardening and tending flowers in the summer, but recent health problems with my back have made this hobby unsustainable. Still, I knew the benefits of having hobbies and worried that I wouldn’t have any. What would I do if I couldn’t fill my day with work or grandchildren?

So I asked around, had people describe their hobbies to me, and tried to find one that would be a good fit for me. It felt a bit like taking applications for a new hire, and I finally found the right candidate: Pilates. Not only would this hobby help strengthen my core and prevent future back injuries, but it can too improving my posture, balance, mobility and bone density, which would continue to provide benefits as I age. Talk to people and use your own applications to nurture a new hobby today.

By paying attention to mental wellbeing, we may be able to avoid some of the tragedies of mental illness. We can all take more action to remove the stigma about seeking mental health care. We can also use today as an opportunity to connect with the people we love, especially those who live alone or are aging, and get them involved in their hobbies.

My father-in-law loves to play golf and could spend all summer on the green, but he lives where the winters are too cold, so he would end up spending half the year indoors and inactive. Now we treat him to an annual golf trip to Texas so he can get into his groove. Invest in hobbies for yourself and others and the happiness it can bring. That little moment of joy may be all it takes to turn a bad day into a better one.

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