Jon Depaolis 2017-03-03 01:31:49
Decompress, refocus by picking up a hobby When dealing with the stresses and burdens of daily life, many people turn to psychologists or other mental health specialists for help. This can often lead to hefty medical bills. But what if there were another way to improve one’s mental health while also bettering his or her quality of life? Turns out, the answer is simple: Find a hobby. Dr. Beth A. Howlett — director of the Widener University Counseling Center in Chester, Pennsylvania, and an expert in health and fitness, as well as mental health and well-being — believes hobbies are one way to improve mental health. “Our hobbies are things that can give our lives purpose and meaning beyond our jobs and our place in our family,” Howlett says. “It’s something we choose to do for ourselves.” Physical activities and hobbies, such as running or going to the gym, can bring obvious health benefits. “Research has shown at least with exercises — and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens with some of the other [nonathletic] activities — that endorphins are released to help stimulate the pleasure center of our brain,” Howlett says. The routine or repeated practice of a hobby can also yield benefits. “It can be grounding,” Howlett says. “It can be a healthy escape, too.” But it doesn’t have to just be a physical exercise. “Creativity helps with plasticity of the brain,” Howlett says. “It creates new neural pathways, and I think it can be immensely helpful in many respects — even in terms of the aging process. Obviously, exercise has many benefits — physically, mentally, emotionally. But I think things like music and art, those creative forms — gardening, too — get people to connect with nature. That is also close to the spiritual realm, so it’s close to that domain of a person’s life. “Being creative or connecting in different ways can be very beneficial to mental health. It can get you outside of yourself when you’re engaged in something that you choose to do for the fun of it.” Laurene Rehman, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and an expert in recreation, leisure and health, also spoke to the benefits of leisure activities in improving mental health. “If folks aren’t experiencing those positive benefits in their work, [hobbies] are a way to compensate,” Rehman says. “Leisure provides important mental health benefits, in particular, from that idea of taking a reprieve or a break.” Rehman says a key piece to “positive leisure” is that it offers the chance for a full-immersion experience, where one gets so engaged in something that time appears to pass by quicker than normal. “You are so immersed in something that you honestly don’t see what happens around you,” she says. “It’s that chance to shut everything out — any toils, stresses, or emotional or physical challenges.” A key is to find something that works for the individual. Rehman recommends having a repertoire of leisure activities at one’s disposal. “We tend to get stuck in ruts, where we only think of one thing and that’s all we end up doing,” she says. “If anything, trying something new or different should be your New Year’s resolution. You can see if something is your passion that you’ve never had the chance to do.” Rehman suggests contacting local municipal organizations to see what offerings are in the area. And while there are clear benefits to using hobby therapy as a way to deal with life’s stresses, it is important to know when to seek professional help. “If you are experiencing a lack of joy in life, even in activities that used to give you pleasure, you’re suffering most likely from depression,” Howlett says. “I think that would warrant seeking medical help if you are unable to find meaning and life satisfaction in the work and activities you do in life, and if it is affecting your health and relationships.”
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