Anxiety and depression are companions to a large number of Americans today. According to recent research, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. It affects 18.1% of the population annually—that’s about 40 million adults. If you’re included in this statistic, it’s likely that you also suffer from depression which is common for people who experience chronic anxiety.
There’s a number of ways to help treat anxiety and depression, including therapy, medicines, meditation, a change of circumstances or relationships, and exercise. Often, treating these issues take a combination of solutions working together to help a person see real, lasting improvements.
While adopting hobbies won’t automatically solve your anxiety and depression, it can work alongside therapy, medication, and good self care to result in true mental wellness. Here’s a list of hobbies that can effectively help in your fight against depression and anxiety. These are notable for the way they help people vent their emotions, calm their mind, become more creative, and experience overall improvements to their concentration levels and self-confidence.
Flip through this list, find a few hobbies you want to test out, and when you find one or two that really help ease your anxiety and depression, keep doing them.
If you’re not a huge fan of cooking, we get it. The truth is, there are dozens of ways to cook and, with a bit of experimentation, you can find a method that works for you. It’s worth a try! The very act of cooking—focusing on a physical act, chopping, stirring, smelling tasty aromas, experimenting—can help relieve anxiety and depression.
We recommend cooking with ingredients known to improve your mood, like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and protein, and B vitamins. Try an online cooking class to follow along with a professional and attempt new dishes. Or try baking your favourite dessert from a box, then move to baking from scratch. The feeling of failing a recipe can be discouraging, but if you persist, you might find a new, delicious hobby to improve your mental health.
2. Get Out in Nature
Being in nature is known to improve general well being, from reducing stress, anxiety, and sadness, to reducing muscle tension, stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate. Think about the aspect of nature that makes you feel the most relaxed and at ease; find that environment for yourself and make it a part of your rhythm.
This might look like:
1. Walking each morning to enjoy the sunrise
2. Swimming in your local river or lake every weekend
3. Hiking twice a week to enjoy the trees and birds on the trail near your house
4. Taking a road trip to another part of your state each month
5. Driving out to the country and stargazing twice a month
6. Biking through your neighborhood to pick up your coffee before work
7. Planning a coast trip twice a year
However often you can make a trip out to nature, do it. Whether you’re walking to gaze at mountains for 10 minutes each morning or jumping into ocean water once a month, try your best to move around in a natural setting.
3. Keep Houseplants or Start a Garden
There’s nothing like watching and nurturing plants to encourage optimism and mental health. Since you’ll have something to look forward to in each season, gardening can create joy and break cycles of anxiety. It can also help you clear your mind, especially after difficult days.
You don’t have to start a whole garden; not everyone has enough space to do so! Start with a few plant babies from your neighbor or local garden store. Spend time reading up on what your plants need and be thoughtful about which spot in your space will give them adequate sun and air. This is your opportunity to unplug from your own anxious or depressive thoughts and focus on caring for something simple. A few plants might die along the way, but chances are you have a solid green thumb!
4. Do Group Activities
When we experience depression and anxiety, it’s easy to isolate ourselves. Identify an activity you already enjoy and find a group of people you can do it with. It can be an active event like soccer, volleyball or crossfit, or you can do something that encourages more conversation like crafts, painting, book club or writing. Group activities are known to improve mental health and especially reduce stress, so be diligent in your search for a group; ask around or check Facebook. Finding a group of like-minded people can help motivate you, provide company to do a favourite activity, and reduce anxiety and depression.
5. Write Stories and Poems
Writing is an excellent way to get difficult thoughts out of your head and out onto paper. If writing full stories or poems feel intimidating, start with journaling a few times a week, then try your hand at poems as a way to express yourself. Words can help you stay grounded, release tension, and relax so use them to explore your creativity and release anxiety and tension.
6. Volunteer In Your Community
Often, we feel anxious after a stressful situation causing us to overthink our lives, then we get stuck in our own heads. To help get yourself away from anxious thoughts, it helps to focus on other people or acts of service. Do a Google search of nonprofit organizations in your community, find a cause that resonates with you, and connect with them to volunteer. Helping other people or even animals in need can help you put your situation into better perspective and help you feel more peaceful, content, and empowered to address things that seemed overwhelming before.
7. Learn A New Language
Whether musical scales or a completely new language, diving head first into new ways of communicating can help relieve depression and anxiety. We recommend choosing one: A new instrument or a new language. Create reasonable milestones for yourself to reach and start learning. There are plenty of free and cheap apps and instructional videos available to get you started, and before you know it, you’re too busy learning how to play your favourite song on the guitar or hold a conversation in French to focus on the things making you anxious. Just don’t put too much pressure on yourself! Learning a new language can be an incredibly useful hobby, but can feel stressful if you put a high expectation on yourself to learn quickly.
8. Perfect Something You Already Enjoy
We’re all mildly good at a collection of things, but not excellent at most things. Is there something you like doing that you’d like to get better at? Start honing in on that skill or hobby to get better over time. If you enjoy coffee, start trying different brewing styles and flavours to make a small recipe book of coffees. If you enjoy reading, challenge yourself to write something new and spend time editing and refining it. If you enjoy physical exercise, push yourself to the next milestone or mile per minute. Pushing through to improve or perfect something can help get you out of a rut and the feeling of accomplishment you experience can be extremely motivating. Take your time, though. Focus on small improvements over time and make sure you adjust so you actually enjoy yourself along the way.
9. Journal Daily
Think of it as writing your memoir, an account of your life. Begin each entry with a list of things you’re grateful for since your last entry, then start writing about your life or just your day. This process can be extremely cathartic and help uncover patterns in your life that have led to anxiety and depression; once you understand the cause of your anxious thoughts, it’s easier to combat them. Keep your journal with you in case there’s something you want to make a note of to write about later.
And remember, you don’t just have to write. Use the journal to draw your feelings, use crayons or markers to color, attach photographs to memories, write poetry, song lyrics, or use color tabs and sticky notes to separate different parts of your story or your thoughts. Stress-relieving coloring books are also an effective technique to put pen to paper to help relieve your anxiety!
10. Sculpting and Pottery
Hobbies that involve use of your hands are often some of the most relaxing; they help take your attention away from life’s stressors and things you can’t control to help you focus on something simpler that you can control. The texture of the clay and the ability to smooth and shape it can be extremely therapeutic and help you meditate.
This specific craft can sometimes be pricey and take time to refine, but if you can afford it and create space for it in your home, we encourage you to go for it. Approach the craft with open hands, ready to accept the outcome, no matter what it is, and be sure to celebrate every completed project, every chunky vase, and every lumpy creation. Decorate it. Embrace the mess. And let the process remind you that life, like pottery, is uncertain and messy—and that’s okay.
We hope you pick up a new hobby or lean into one that already brings you relief. We’re here for you and can’t wait for you to flourish in deeper, richer ways.