Did you know that incorporating hobbies, or even just one hobby, into your life can actually help you cope with depression more effectively? There are plenty of hobbies for people with depression that won’t just provide immediate relief – they can also act as a protective mechanism and keep your symptoms at bay over the long-term.
And I know – if you have depression, getting out of bed in the morning is enough of a challenge. So the idea of trying out a hobby may feel nearly impossible. But I’m hoping this article will help you move past any doubt or discouragement you feel about finding a hobby, because it can truly be a game-changer for your wellbeing.
To be honest, I’m surprised that hobbies aren’t more openly talked about and encouraged when it comes to our mental health. Because in my experience, exploring new hobbies has been a key factor in helping me overcome my own personal struggles.
How Hobbies Have Changed My Life
I didn’t start out as an avid hobbyist. As a teenager, I didn’t have very positive self-esteem. I always felt like if I tried anything, I’d be no good at it anyway, so why even bother.
It wasn’t until college that I finally mustered up enough courage to try something that seemed kind of interesting to me. It started with knitting – my roommate at the time introduced me to it, and I was HOOKED! (no pun intended – although hooks are more for crocheters, but I digress.)
Then belly dancing became my thing, for YEARS. Then in my late 20s, learning the banjo.
I’ve also dabbled in yoga, sewing, painting, and countless other crafts. And since living in New York for the past 10 years, I’ve taken up biking, blogging, guitar, and most recently GARDENING!
For me, engaging in hobbies has helped provide a buffer during rough patches in my life, like difficult breakups, big life transitions, and disappointing job rejections.
But they also have also turned the monotony of daily existence into something meaningful and worthwhile – which is exactly what someone who is experiencing depression needs.
So what constitutes a hobby?
According to the dictionary, “a hobby is an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.”
Did you get that?
What this means is – you don’t have to be good at a hobby. And you don’t need to be a certain age to start. All you need to do is find some joy in it.
I say this because many people, with depression or not, get caught up in the idea that if they start a new activity, they need to create a masterpiece, or be some kind of prodigy who is an expert at their craft from the get-go.
Putting this kind of pressure on yourself creates an unrealistic expectation and can take all of the pleasure out of the experience. Try not to do that. Just focus on the act of engaging yourself in the thing.
A hobby truly helps bring the words “it’s about the journey, not the destination” to life.
And if you think you’re too old to try something new, guess what? YOU’RE WRONG! If I’m not living proof, please know that my grandma started taking ballet in her 60s. It is NEVER too late to take on a new hobby.
How Do Hobbies Help People With Depression?
1. Hobbies Build Self Esteem
First and foremost, when you’re feeling depressed, you’re likely having negative thoughts about yourself, your own potential, and what the future might hold.
When you take that first step to try out a new hobby, you are connecting to a part of yourself that says, “I can do this.” Or at least, “Even if I don’t think I can do this, I can try.”
2. Hobbies Produce “Feel-Good” Chemicals In The Brain
This may seem obvious, but hobbies are fun. When you engage in something fun, like a hobby, you’re actually releasing chemicals in your brain that make you feel good, like dopamine and serotonin.
But when you’re depressed, your brain is producing those chemicals at a lower rate. So finding a pleasurable activity you enjoy can help keep your brain chemistry a bit more balanced.
3. Hobbies Encourage Social Interaction
When you’re feeling depressed, it’s common to withdraw from your social circle which reinforces the feelings of loneliness you may be experiencing, and creates a vicious cycle of isolation.
One way to counteract that loneliness, even when you don’t feel like it, is to be around other people.
And luckily, there are plenty of hobbies out there that involve human interaction, especially when you’re just trying one out for the first time. From art classes, to intramural sports, to taking a guitar lesson from an instructor.
Not only do those hobbies force you to socialize, but they can help you meet people and form new friendships. And who knows what those new friendships could lead to! And of course, having a good, quality friend does wonders for your mental health and wellbeing.
4. Hobbies Are A Healthy Distraction
Sure, watching hours of reality TV or scrolling through your phone can serve as a mindless distraction. But I wouldn’t call those hobbies. Even calling them activities would be a stretch.
For people with depression, what you might need in those moments when you just want to shut down your brain is something that will get you out of your head, and into the present moment.
I would argue that engaging in a hobby is one of the healthier forms of distraction out there. Because you’re not shutting down your brain – you’re lighting it up in new ways.
You’re distracting yourself from the negativity swirling around in your mind by focusing on the present moment. And you’re practicing new skills that will help you feel more hopeful about your abilities and fight off your depression.
5. Hobbies Can Heal Your Inner Child
One of the more unexpected yet powerful ways that my hobbies have influenced my own mental health journey, is that they’ve helped me get in touch with, and take care of my inner child.
What does this mean?
Your Inner Child is the part of you that has been holding onto subconscious beliefs about yourself and the world from a young age. A lot of your early childhood experiences shape how your inner child manifests itself when you’re an adult.
When your inner child has felt safe and seen, you have the belief that you can blossom into whoever you want to be as an adult.
It may be a sign that your inner child is still experiencing unresolved pain from your childhood when you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, self-consciousness, or shame as an adult. And it is likely that he/she/they could use some tending to.
One of the best ways to tend to your inner child is to give them the gift of pleasure through play, AKA a hobby. A hobby is just a fancy, grown-up way to describe playtime!
It’s pretty well known that as a child, play is normal, fun, even healthy for your development.
But adults need to play too. And when you allow yourself to play as an adult, you’re also taking care of the inner child in you that has been yearning to be seen.
Hobbies For People With Depression: Finding The Right One
If you’re looking to take on a new hobby as a way to cope with your depression but aren’t sure what to try or where to start, that’s okay. You’re starting by reading this article! There are a few different avenues you can take when brainstorming the possibilities.
1. Access Your Inner Child
As I mentioned above, tending to your inner child is a powerful technique you can use to fight off depression.
So think about yourself as a child. What did you like to do? Make arts and crafts? Play tag with your friends? Sing songs in the car?
When I thought back to my childhood, I had this buried memory from PRESCHOOL, that during recess, I loved to scour the playground for flowers (which in reality, were weeds with little pink tufts at the top).
So I took that information and decided to start gardening this year. I grew tons of flowers on my windowsill.
And unexpectedly, a few months later, my 21-year-old cat passed away. I was a mess. The only thing that got me out of bed in the morning during that time were the flowers I knew I had to care for if I wanted them to survive.
I obviously didn’t know that having this hobby in place would help me cope with the depression I felt in those initial weeks after Squiggles died. But I’m grateful it was there.
2. Connect With Who You Are
Before reading this section, take a moment to center yourself. Take a few breaths.
Check in with your body. Check in with your gut. Close your eyes, and see if any images, thoughts, or ideas rise to the surface. Take your time.
If something comes up, take note. See how it feels in your body as you explore that idea.
Do you experience any kind of flutter in your heart, or even a slight opening in your chest? Perhaps your shoulders relax a bit when an idea pops into your mind.
And if nothing happens, don’t sweat it.
You can also go through this list, and as you do, pay attention to what’s happening on the inside. Your gut is telling you what you may be interested in.
- Jigsaw Puzzles
- Flower Arranging
- Dog Walking
- Jewelry Making
- Dance Classes
- Learning an Instrument
- Horseback Riding
- Writing Poetry
- DIY crafts
There are tons of hobbies out there, so if another one comes to mind that isn’t on this list, by all means, listen to what you are trying to tell yourself! Connect with who you are.
3. Look for inspiration
Who are you inspired by? Maybe it’s a friend who ran a half-marathon, or a musician you’re a big fan of (any Swifties out there?), or someone you follow on instagram who posts about their yoga journey. Maybe it’s even a character from a movie who is great at martial arts.
If there is anyone out there that you’ve noticed doing something cool, and thought to yourself, “man, I wish I could ____________ (insert activity here),” guess what? YOU CAN!
You may not be as far along as that person you look up to, but DO NOT let that discourage you. Use those feelings of admiration to fuel your own motivations, and get inspired.
4. Collaborate with Friends
Do you know anyone out there who has a hobby that they absolutely love? Talk to that person! Learn how they got into it, and if you’re interested too, ask how they recommend you get started, or if you can join them next time.
Or maybe you have a friend that is in the same boat as you – wants to find a hobby but doesn’t know what to do or where to start. Brainstorm together on different classes you can take and make a plan to go together. Hold each other accountable.
5. Stop Overanalyzing and Start
For people with depression, it is common to feel completely paralyzed when it comes to making a decision because you don’t want to fail. Or you want everything to be perfect before you start.
If you find yourself overanalyzing how to get started, simply acknowledge it. Know you aren’t alone in it.
Notice if you’re spending a lot of time finding the perfect activity for you, or doing too much research on the best classes offered, or ordering the highest quality gear. We all get caught up on those details, but don’t let it stop you from starting.
If something out there is calling your name, just go for it.
Take the time now – set a timer for 20 minutes. Do the googling, if you need supplies, order what you need, just get started.
And if getting started is something you struggle with, therapy can help. I work with a lot of individuals who need a little extra help getting unstuck. More info about my services can be found here.
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to like and share it below.
And let me know in the comments – what hobby sounds most interesting to you? Or, is there anything you always wanted to do a as a kid but never got the chance to? Please share – what hobby do you feel most inspired to try after reading this article?