This month we are engaging in Mental Health Awareness Week which takes place from the 15th to the 21st of May, and has a particular focus on anxiety.
Anxiety is something many of us feel either daily or occasionally and research shows that 60% of us experience at least mild symptoms. But there are ways we can help to reduce our feelings of anxiety, which can lead to improvements in our overall mental health. One great way to help reduce your anxiety is to find something new to focus your attention and energy on. Here are some of the ways that a new activity can help lessen your feelings of anxiety.
Releasing feel-good endorphins
If your chosen activity is exercise then you will quickly begin to enjoy the feel-good endorphins released after your workouts. Whether you are hitting the gym, have joined a boxercise class or are trying something vastly different like ice skating or skateboarding, your brain will reward you with the release of chemicals that increase and enhance your sense of well-being.
However, you don’t have to work up a sweat to reward yourself with feel-good chemicals. Engaging and enjoying various hobbies, from doing something creative to reading, stroking your pet or listening to music all release serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine.
- Serotonin is released when you engage in activities and spend time outdoors, which aids with digestion and sleep to further boost your mood and overall well-being.
- Oxytocin, although sounding like something you get from a pharmacy, is the feeling of warmth you get from interacting with friends, family or even pets. Engaging in an activity that increases your level of social interaction is a great way to experience the mental health boost of oxytocin.
- Dopamine is perhaps the best known happy hormone and it is the instant gratification for rewarding yourself. You can control your dopamine release from a new hobby by setting yourself goals and then rewarding yourself for achieving your targets. There is evidence suggesting that improving dopamine levels could reduce social anxiety, and possibly other anxiety disorders.
Providing a new focus
With a new activity comes new skills to learn and hone. If you pick up some paints and brushes, you may wish to improve your overall drawing skills, work on your colour theory or there might be a particular style you wish to master, such as portraits, still life or abstract.
There is no reason why you can’t also revisit some of your old hobbies to provide you with a renewed sense of focus. For example, if you used to play golf, why not take lessons before you head back onto the course from a coach or book some sessions on a simulator to get into the swing of things.
To ensure you can continue to focus and maintain motivation it’s important to set yourself small and realistic goals. If you pick up running as a hobby, for instance, try to set incremental goals like running for 5 minutes and progressing by small amounts rather than immediately training for a marathon if you’ve never run as a hobby before.
Improving your confidence
The more you start to progress and overcome the goals you set for yourself, the more confident you will become that your new activity or hobby is making a difference. After a few weeks, you can look back with pride on the achievements you have made.
You will also have developed a new set of skills that can help you to feel satisfaction in yourself and this is something you can also demonstrate to other people. If your new activity is creative, showcasing what you have made to others is a great way to improve your confidence.
Reducing feelings of isolation
Finding a hobby or activity that you love is perfect for giving you something to focus your attention on rather than the negative thoughts that often come with anxiety. There is another upside to finding an activity to enjoy and that is the ability to increase your social interactions with people who have a shared interest.
Joining a class or group based on your hobbies or interests allows you to enjoy your chosen activity communally. For example, joining a walking group allows you to not only engage in physical activity but also reduce your anxiety when speaking to others as there is less need for eye contact.
Sharing your hobby
Sharing can also be a fun way to learn from others and make your hobby more interactive. After all, we are social creatures by nature. You may even find working collaboratively on a project is effective for adding a sense of purpose to your activity as you don’t want to let the other person or people down.
Finding a way to share your hobby or activity is great for holding you accountable which keeps you coming back time and time again. With someone else relying on you, it’s less likely you will quit and more likely that you will keep your hobby up, allowing you to continue experiencing the mental health benefits that come with regular activity.
Enhancing your physical wellbeing
Although the links between exercise, anxiety and depression are not completely clear, engaging in physical workouts or activities can ease the symptoms. Not only can a fun and engaging activity help you to feel better but it can also keep feelings of anxiety from coming back once you are feeling better.
Having a hobby or activity to focus on rather than your negative thoughts can help to take your mind off your worries. Anxiety and depression feed off of negative thoughts but by breaking the cycle you can give your mind a break, increase your mood and create a positive association with your new activity.
If you engage in physical activity then those endorphins at the end of a workout will only serve to keep you coming back for more. Another bonus of finding a form of exercise to enjoy is that your body will respond and your overall fitness level will improve, which in turn helps you to feel more confident.
Help reduce your anxiety by trying something new
We understand that the thought of trying something new might spark a bout of anxiety so it’s best to start small with any activity or exercise. By gradually exposing yourself to these new experiences you can ease your way in and before you know it you’re fully immersed in your favourite new activity.