Is a hobby your secret weapon for reducing stress?

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails.”
– Bertha Calloway –

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had complete control over everything that happened in our lives? I mean, imagine if our individual actions could influence a pandemic, the stock market, traffic, client demands, work deadlines, mortgage rates, the opinions and reactions and decisions of our children, friends, family and colleagues. Then our lives would be stress-free, right? 

Upon first consideration, it’s easy to understand why these things could cause us stress. But what is it about each of them that can cause our hearts to pound, our blood pressure to rise, and intense emotions to surface? The answer is: we have very little, if any, control over the outcomes. And for many people, if they can’t control an outcome, it can cause some degree of stress.

FEELING OUT OF CONTROL CAN NEGATIVELY IMPACT YOUR HEALTH

In the article, “What is The Stress Response?”, I explain how the body responds the same way biochemically no matter what the stressor is. For example, being chased by a pack of wolves can have the same physiological/mental/physical impact as being under pressure at work, albeit running from a pack of wolves will likely elicit more of a stress response than your work environment.  *Note: If work is stressing you out more than a pack of wolves, it might be time to consider new employment!  

When you perceive that you don’t have control over a situation, when you fear that you can’t dictate your outcome, it can also activate The Stress Response. This response, especially when chronic, can result in ongoing hormone imbalance, and contribute to a host of imbalances including weight gain, high blood pressure, sugar cravings, poor sleep, impaired digestion, reproductive issues and the list goes on. This is why I include ‘lack of control’ as one of The Top 10 Unhealthy Habits keeping busy professionals from optimal health.

I will say here that if you are struggling to gain a sense of control over a situation in your life and need support, please speak with a therapist or counsellor. The right therapist can be an immensely invaluable tool.

Learn more: The Top 10 Healthy Habits to De-Stress Your Body and Mind

IS THIS IN YOUR STRESS MANAGEMENT TOOLBOX?

There are many ways to re-gain a sense of control in your life – without becoming a control freak, that is. As a Coach and Wellness Educator, I value education as a way to help people reduce stress. Information can empower people with knowledge, helping them make more informed decisions, which can help them gain a sense of control over their outcomes and ultimately, reduce stress.

Besides education, however, stress can be managed by a number of other healthy habits, some of which you may not naturally consider to help with stress reduction. For example, as I mention in The Top 10 Unhealthy Habits, you can reduce stress by maintaining a proper diet of whole foods, staying hydrated, following a balanced exercise program, practicing some form of meditation or mindfulness, getting enough sleep, cutting down on screen time, keeping a positive mindset, and limiting multi-tasking. Reading, writing, keeping a gratitude journal, seeing a therapist, and incorporating other daily lifestyle habits that work for you personally can also reduce stress on your body and mind.

But there’s an effective stress management tool that is too often overlooked and underestimated: It’s called a hobby.

A HOBBY CAN POSITIVELY IMPACT YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH

How could a hobby possibly reduce stress, you ask?

Let’s say you’ve got a job that is stressing you out. You or your manager have high expectations, you’ve got tight deadlines, and you’re understaffed. For a portion of your workday, you feel tension and pressure. At the end of the workday, you go home to more stress (from a partner, kids or even a lack of social interaction), you have a glass of wine (or 2) to take off the edge and/or you eat an extra helping of food because you’ve had a tough day and you ‘deserve it’, and you sit in front of a screen (or 2) to zone out. Then you go to bed, and as you lay your emotionally, mentally, and seemingly physically exhausted head on the pillow, you analyze (or overanalyze) the day, worrying about tomorrow.

This scenario is mental or emotional stress (from work) + nutritional stress (from poor diet) + physical stress (from excessive screen time) + mental stress (from overthinking) + a poor sleep (also a stressor) that doesn’t allow you to recover from the day. Needless to say, it doesn’t paint a picture of optimal health.

But imagine if, at the end of the workday, instead of dwelling on workplace challenges and layering home stress on top of work stress, you go coach your kid’s little league team or you go to singing lessons or a painting class or play tennis with a friend? For that 60 minutes or more when you’re learning something new or cheering on a dozen 8-year olds, would you still be consumed with work issues?

Probably not. This is why:

As I describe in What is The Stress Response, when you’re under stress (real or perceived) or when you’re putting your body through stress via dehydration, poor diet, lack of sleep, and so on, your body immediately adjusts in order to keep you alive and well. Blood (containing glucose, nutrients, oxygen) goes to your leg muscles (and to other limbs) so you can run from or fight your stressor, and a little bit of glucose goes to your brain so you can focus on the oh-so-important task of keeping yourself safe. (This is a wonderful thing when the stress is short-term. The problem is when stress becomes chronic because chronic stress = chronic hormone imbalance = disease.) 

When you feel a lack of control (a perceived stress), you need to redirect the flow of energy that’s being directed to your fight or flight muscles, and balance it throughout your body and brain, in an effort to help you re-gain perspective. Simply put, you need to have a way, a mechanism that helps you shift your thinking. 

A hobby can do just that. Shifting your focus to the hobby at hand – painting, woodworking, coaching, tennis, reading, writing – can literally shift the chemistry in your body, helping you put things into perspective and reminding you of what’s really important in life. And this is why a hobby can be – mentally and physically – a secret weapon for reducing stress.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME FOR A HOBBY, THINK AGAIN.

If you’re thinking “I don’t have time for a hobby”, then you’re certainly not alone. We have busy schedules – with work, kids, exercise, eating, sleeping, catching up with friends, taking time to ourselves – so how is it possible to find even more time when there are only 24 hours in a day?

The answer is: you make time. Sometimes this requires being creative with your solution. Here are a few common reasons I’ve heard for not making time for a hobby, followed by a suggestion or two for how to make it work.

  • “I can’t get away from my kids for long enough to do something for myself.” Get your kids involved in their own hobbies or passions at the same time you’re involved in yours. Or use this time to brainstorm what each of you could do for just an hour a week that would bring you joy! This can be such an awesome way to get to know what your kids really love to do – at any age.
  • “I need to get my workout in.” You don’t have to work out everyday (if you don’t believe me, sign up for a Private Coaching Program or Online Course to learn The 360 Rule), and even if you’re active 6 days a week, you’ve got a 7th day to participate in your hobby. Don’t underestimate the impact of getting out of your head and just doing something that has no goals to achieve other than to have some fun and decompress.
  • “I always have to work late.” Then you’ve got to make time. You’ve got to make yourself a priority. Maybe you need to look at your processes to see where you can be more efficient in your day. Maybe you need to say ‘no’ to certain projects and people. Maybe you need to have a conversation with your manager (or yourself) about not taking on more than you should and making balance a priority. Whatever your situation, make the time to find a hobby and pursue a passion. If you’re working that much, then you certainly deserve some downtime!
  • “If I have a hobby, I won’t be able to see my friends as much.” Easy solution – follow your passions together. Maybe you realize that a friend also wants to learn to paint or sing or play baseball. What a perfect way to learn together, have fun together, reduce stress together, and build an even stronger bond for doing so.

NOT SURE WHAT YOUR HOBBY SHOULD BE?

Many people haven’t participated in a hobby for years, even decades. As we age and shift our attention to day-to-day family care or work responsibilities, people tend to shelve the things they were once passionate about. Choosing a hobby can be as simple as thinking back to what you loved doing when you were a kid but don’t make time for anymore. Start by asking yourself, ‘What am I passionate about?’  

If an answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, start making a simple short-list of activities that you enjoyed in the past, but haven’t been making time for now. These activities should: 

  • use your creative side, or the side of your brain you use the least,
  • inspire you (it doesn’t mean you need to want to change the world, but it does need to be something you look forward to!),
  • help you forget your to do list,
  • teach you something new or reinforce skills you already have,
  • make you feel good about yourself.

Ultimately successful hobbies are sticky. They are something you look forward to, they give you a sense of joy, they keep you coming back for more, and of course, they reduce stress. 

If you’re feeling out of control and your lifestyle is overflowing with unhealthy habits, then it’s time to introduce tools that can help you reduce stress – on your body and your brain. In this case, it starts with finding something you love to do. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

👩‍🏫 Want to know if Hidden Stress is keeping you from reaching your health and wellness goals? Take the What’s Your Hidden Stress Score Quiz to find out!

By Nicole Porter
Nicole Porter is a Stress Coach and Wellness Educator helping busy, stressed out professionals mindfully overcome the Top 10 Unhealthy Habits preventing optimal health, mindset and productivity. She is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Registered Nutritional Therapist, Healthy Weight Loss Coach, and Pilates Coach with a background in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Behaviour Change.

Nicole Porter Wellness

Join The Well

Subscribe now to get stress-reducing, health-inducing advice to your inbox!

Success! You are subscribed.