Hobbies for mental health: 9 women share the activities that bring them joy

hobbies for mental health
9 hobbies to help support mental healthHearst Owned

Think back to the last time you felt truly relaxed. Your shoulders softened; your jaw unclenched and the thoughts that usually fight for centre stage in your busy brain assuaged by a nothingness of calm.

This is probably not a regular feeling nor one with which you usually identify, but as proved below, sometimes it be found, if only momentarily, in unexpected places.

It's no secret that hobbies are good for your mental health. A growing body of research points to their potential when it comes to stress and low mood; one study published in March 2020 found that they're linked with decreased symptoms of depression too.

So, if you've been putting yours on the back-burner, take cues from the women below who share the activities that help bring them joy, shift their mindset and encourage a sense of calm.

Emma Gritt, WH Executive Editor

'A couple of years ago I randomly signed up to a £10 mosaics class on Obby – and it turned out to be the intro to one of my favourite hobbies. I have since attended several more drop in classes, and I find that when I make the time to get to the Art4Space studio in Stockwell, my mental health is really bolstered. I enjoy being creative for creative's sake, and while my creations will never be in a gallery, I feel proud of them and have them on display at home. Mosaic is an activity that doesn't involve screens or typing, which in today's world is quite a luxury! It also brings me in to contact with new people, and the odd bit of banal chit-chat with nameless strangers can be strangely comforting after a stressful day at work.'

Jessica O’Donnell, WH Ecommerce Editor

'During lockdown I was going through a rough patch (to say the least) and in researching what I could do to pull me out of my funk I saw a few articles about the benefits of volunteering. I signed up to volunteer once a fortnight for a few hours for a suicide prevention charity, and it's the best thing I've done in years. Committing to regular volunteering is known to build self esteem and improve mental wellbeing, which has definitely been my experience.'

Natasha Harding, WH Fashion Editor

'If I’m ever feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I find that a trip to my local secondhand shop helps clear my head. Now, I know what you’re thinking: a Fashion Editor finds shopping therapeutic, groundbreaking... But, for me, it’s not about actually buying anything. Sometimes just getting out of the house and immersing myself in new things, rummaging through unordered boxes and mismatched racks, is what I need to distract myself and focus on something else. It just so happens that the 'something else' is a subject I'm genuinely interested in - which is perhaps why it works so well. And if I find a fab fashion buy in the process, that’s just a win/win, right?'

Jess Bantleman, WH Social Media Manager

'I love going for a bike ride, and usually go every lunch break (not so much when it's raining) but listening to music and just cycling helps me clear my head. Also just going for a long dog walk, early in the morning is the best way to start a day i'm feeling particularly anxious or low energy.'

Roisin Dervish O'Kane, WH Senior Editor

'I was going to say that I don’t have any actual hobbies (sorting this out remains a constant personal goal!). But one thing I do regularly that helps me feel like myself is going for coffee on a Saturday or Sunday morning, switching my phone to airplane mode and doing my journalling there. I’ve always been one of those people who worked things out by writing them down. There's no real formula or brief or targets, just a brain dump of the thoughts, feelings and half baked ideas that have been clattering around my mind over the past week. I'm sure if I was to read the pages back it would be hot mess. But it works: I’m able to get to the bottom of any sticky feelings; draw out elements of my life I want to work on; plus reflect on where - and with whom - I want to spend my time and energy. I live alone (bar a kitten) so I think it's easy for me to assume I have plenty of time for self-reflection. But it’s not always fun to think about how you’re really feeling, or take an honest look at your own actions - especially amidst life's daily tasks. The promise of an oat americano, almond croissant and people watching helps get me there.'

Bridie Wilkins, WH Fitness Editor

'As WH’s fitness editor, exercise is a huge part of my life and sometimes the thing I swear by for making me feel good, but reading is also up there. I’m a fiction fan, but I’m not fussy with genres otherwise; thrillers, romance, comedy – as long as it creates another world for me to escape to, I love it. I read every night without fail for at least half an hour (I often don’t realise the time and end up doing longer), and I don’t think about anything else but the story I’m reading for that time. It’s my form of meditation. When asked to write this snippet, I checked how many books I’ve read so far in 2023, and I’ve already devoured 15. My 9-year-old Kindle is still going strong.'

Georgie Lane Godfrey, WH Features Director & WH Collective Editor

'With a toddler, it’s pretty hard to get any time to yourself to well and truly switch off. That relaxing savana? I’ll get sat on. A quiet coffee to myself? Inevitably interrupted by a bellow of ‘Mummy!’ But the one thing which does let me have some mental space is horse riding. Partly because you can’t really combine it with childcare, partly because when you’re in the saddle and moving at high speed, you really need to be concentrating. There’s nothing quite like galloping down a race track to really clear your mind and centre you in the present. It’s the ultimate mood booster.'

Flora Blathwayt, founder of Washed Up Cards

'I got into beach cleaning during the pandemic when I was furloughed from my job. I started going on litter picking walks during our hour's exercise allowance and then made little greetings cards using some of the colourful plastic I had found washed up on the River Thames. I hoped they might help spread awareness about plastic pollution in a fun and engaging way. Being outside and spending time closer to nature beach cleaning massively helps with my mental health. I often say beach cleaning is a like a mediation, it's soothing for anxious minds because you have to concentrate and focus on a patch of sand or pebbles for all the micro-plastic. It's also a nice feeling knowing you're making a difference, however tiny, in the fight against plastic.I now run beach cleans once a month and ask volunteers to fill out a survey afterwards, the amount of responses I get saying its such a 'joy' or 'wholesome use of time' or 'great digital detox' 'great to alleviate stress' all at the same time as helping the environment.. so a win-win in so many ways!'

Amelia Bell, WH contributor

'Few activities allow my busy brain to switch off. Even when I’m reading or watching the TV I’ll be thinking about my to-do list, pondering the meaning of life or contemplating the tone of that message on the hen group chat. But painting? It’s the sole activity where my thoughts start to dissipate, my mind focuses, and I feel a sense of calm wash over me. I can sit for hours on the weekend and, as it's a pastime just for me, I have no pressure to create a masterpiece or finish a deadline. I just enjoy the process; the stillness and consider it a kind of art therapy, watching the brushstrokes blend and move on the canvas. It's a really meditative practice for me.'

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