Simply put, getting creative gives your mind and body a break from the constant barrage of stress. “When using our bodies, such as in dance, or our hands, as in drawing or coloring, our mind makes space for the activity we’re doing in place of the stress we felt before,” says Sarah Pace, personal health coach and trainer. “Asking our brain to focus on something physical puts us in a sort of meditative state, releasing dopamine and slowing our breath.”
For example, research published in 2018 in Behavioral Sciences found that Creative Arts Therapies (art, music, dance, drama) prevent stress and improve stress management. “[These creative activities] give us a temporary respite from focusing on whatever day-to-day problems we’re experiencing,” says Chloe Carmichael, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety. “Plus, opening up our creative capacity can help make us more effective problem solvers, which can reduce stress.”
Hobbies to promote stress relief are limited only by your imagination. Calming activities don’t always have to be expensive, don’t require expertise, and don’t have to take up a lot of time. “Creative activities at their best elicit a state of flow, a sense of engagement and letting go, without conscious control,” says Margaret Moore, executive coach, CEO of Wellcoaches Corporation, and coauthor of Organize Your Emotions, Optimize Your Life. In other words, “the controlling, thinking mind is set aside during creative flow states, which feels good even if the activity is intense, taking your mind off things.”
Learning more about creative hobbies—and how to do them—is often only a click away, too. YouTube, for instance, is just one fabulous resource for watching tutorials and listening in on lessons. Pace also recommends searching for learning groups and clubs online and through social media. Here are a few creative, stress-busting hobby ideas to get you started.
Free dance, dance workouts, or instructed dance are all great options for this research-backed stress-reliever. Pennsylvania State University found that dancing decreases stress, just like other forms of exercise do. Dancing releases endorphins, the happy hormones, making your body and mind feel good quickly. Looking to learn a new dance step or technique? YouTube has no shortage of entertaining and challenging instructional dance videos, from tap to ballet to hula. See if your gym offers dance workout sessions. There may also be adult ed programs offering dance classes to community members. But the truth is, all you really need is some good music and a little space to get your groove on informally.
Draw, sketch, color, paint: All of these hobbies will have you focusing on your creative project instead of your worries. In fact, research from Harvard concluded that drawing and painting, specifically, relieve stress. For less than $10, you can download an app like Procreate for a digital sketch experience, or check out classes offered through your local art museum, library, or art supply store. Again, look to the internet for free and fun art tutorials, and don’t discount the advantages of adult coloring books.
Keeping a journal, writing short stories, or penning letters is known to help ease stress. Researchers from Harvard found that writing about your emotions decreases stress, plain and simple. Set a timer for 10 minutes or so and write continuously. You’ll be surprised at what ends up on the page, and how much better you feel.
Playing an instrument
Notice how you feel happy after listening to your favorite tune or playlist? Creating music is the same—not only does it allow you to express yourself, but the sound can evoke an emotional state. Research published in the Federal Practitioner found that learning to play an instrument provides an emotional release, and that “there is evidence that playing an instrument elicits brain changes that positively influence cognitive functioning and decreases stress.” It’s not as hard to find opportunities to learn an instrument as you might think. There are apps for learning to play the drums, guitar, piano, and even the ukulele (Simply Piano is just one example of a free app for easy-to-follow instruction). YouTube, of course, boasts a large inventory of instructional how-to videos. And you can always ask about individual or group lessons (or instructor recommendations) at a local music shop.
Knitting is another remarkably meditative hobby. A study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy showed that a regular practice of knitting improved personal well-being; it also found a relationship between frequency of knitting and feeling calm and happy. Browse YouTube for excellent knitting tutorials and schedule regular weekly time to knit—better yet, invite a friend to join you!
Point, zoom, and click to melt your stress away—and you don’t need an expensive camera to make amateur photography a hobby. Using your phone is a perfectly great option for everyday snaps that make you happy and tap into your creative brain. According to research from the University of Lancaster, taking photos every day improves well-being. It encourages you to slow down and find meaning in small things every day, as well as promotes physical activity and more time outdoors, which both happen to be excellent stress-reducers, too.