3 Hobbies to Help Keep Stress to a Minimum
It’s normal for us to experience stress in our daily lives—we face pressures from work, school, kids, friends —and while we can usually handle our busy schedules, the cumulative effect of these daily commitments can get us down. But there are ways we can prevent ourselves from burning out, and taking up a calming hobby can help keep even a high-stress lifestyle a little more manageable. We talked with a few experts to get tips on the best hobbies to take up to help keep stress at bay.
1. Go Blue
The calming and restorative effects of being near a body of water have long been subconsciously understood—we take beach vacations for a reason, after all. New evidence is reinforcing the benefits of spending time near “blue spaces,” which can be any area with a body of water like a river, lake or ocean. Researchers say that people who spend time near blue spaces can improve their mood and reduce psychological stress. Additionally, those who spend time near water tend to participate more in physical activities, including walking, running, swimming, surfing and kayaking.
Kayaking is a great way for anyone to get out and fully enjoy the benefits of a blue space. It’s a good alternative for those who don’t want to be fully submerged in water, but still want to be in it. It’s meditative and a full-body workout, strengthening the muscles in your arms, legs and core all at once.
Learning how to surf can have multiple physical and mental benefits as well. Surfing doesn’t require you to be in perfect shape: The activity is adaptable to all skill levels and, like kayaking, can offer the benefits of a full-body workout.
Stepping out of your element and trying a new activity can shake you out of your old routine. Both kayaking and surfing allow you to get vitamin D from sunshine and they release endorphins, meaning that they reduce stress and can even help with anxiety.
Think you can’t manage to take the time away? Kjeld Schigt, CEO of Kalon Surf Resort in Costa Rica, often works with C-level executives. He’s discovered that the executives he engages with find multiple benefits of connecting with blue spaces—many of them reach breakthroughs on business problems or ideas after spending time near the water. This almost always happens when they’re on the beach after surfing and are getting some water or a fresh coconut—suddenly, they have an “aha!” moment.
“Imagine riding your first wave while looking at the blue waters, jungle and beach in front of you, pure bliss, full of adrenaline—this type of emotion is a great kickstarter for anything that you are trying to solve, plan or do,” Kjeld says.
2. Embrace Green Space
A companion to blue spaces is green space. Being in nature, taking a note from the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing,” has numerous cumulative effects of easing stress and relaxing, simply by being around trees. The fresh air, the sensory input of sunlight through trees and the sounds of birds can have immense restorative effects, as well as lower blood pressure and heart rate.
The Rev. Connie L. Habash, a licensed marriage and family therapist, yoga teacher, interfaith minister and author of the forthcoming Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, Courageous Life, practices ecotherapy, counseling and psychotherapy in nature.
“Being outdoors has many benefits for our well-being—it’s my go-to practice to reduce my own stress, and one that I encourage all my clients to practice,” Rev. Connie says. First of all, it takes us away from our to-do list and devices (hello, airplane mode!). “We get a much-needed break from the inundation of information and demands in our lives.”
But more than that, it reconnects us to something greater. “The feeling of wonder of being on a cliff over the ocean, deep under a forest canopy or simply sitting in a park listening to birds’ songs reminds us that we’re not alone and that we’re part of this amazing planet we live on,” she says. “It renews the wonder we felt as children, when simply playing outdoors opened us to exploration, freedom and joys that indoor confines couldn’t offer.”
Nurse and health writer Ashley Wood says that the positive benefits of being outside can last for up to seven days. “People typically report feeling less depressed and less anxious, share decreases in their rumination of past negative events in their lives and decreases in their negative affects,” she says. “Most people state they feel happier and are in a better mood after being outside. This is especially true when you exercise outside.”
3. Be Present
Mindfulness can be the key that gets us out of the cycle of depression and anxiety that can be exacerbated by stress. Psychologist Nicole Amoyal Pensak, Ph.D. says paying attention to your five senses can bring you back to the present.
“It is said that anxiety and depression are disorders of time; with anxiety, you worry about the future, and with depression, you think about the past,” Nicole says. “Thus, if you are in the present, anxiety and depression cease to exist.”
Focusing on your five senses can help bring you to the present—which is easier to do in a natural setting. Nicole suggests running your thoughts through a series of questions: “’What do you hear? What is the most distant sound that you can hear? What do you smell? What do you see?’ You can also enhance these experiences by listening to music or carrying an essential oil around with you, such as lavender,” she says.
Counselor, life coach and burnout expert Nikolai Diana Blinow suggests her clients get outside a minimum of once a week for an hour and to aim for at least a few minutes outside each day because green spaces are rich in oxygen and are ideal for hiking, walking, running or even yoga. Even opening a window in an office space can help.
“It’s very beneficial to get out in nature, but there are also ways we can try to bring nature to us,” Nikolai says. “Having a balanced approach, I believe, is going to provide us with the best outcomes.”
Interested in more tips for stress relief? Try these yoga poses or read how one woman treats her stress and anxiety with doctor-prescribed cold showers.