How Gardening Can Fight Stress And Improve Your Life

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It’s National Nutrition Month, which makes it a great time to evaluate how you’ve been fueling your body. If one of the changes you’ve decided to make involves eating more fruits and vegetables, you might want to consider starting your own garden. Not only could this decision be beneficial to your waistline, it could also improve your mental health.

The Research

We’re fascinated by nature and this curiosity can help us better cope with life’s challenges. In fact, one study showed that engaging with a garden distracts us from our worries and stops us from obsessing about our problems. Over 12 weeks, participants saw an improvement in the severity of their depression during and immediately after the gardening study, and three months later, they still reported significant improvements!

Cortisol is a hormone released by the body when we’re experiencing stress. When the levels remain elevated in our bodies, it can increase our risk of depression, mental illness, impaired immune function, weight gain, heart disease and so much more. Incredibly, spending time in nature can help keep things under control.

Japanese researchers discovered that spending 30 minutes in the woods could not only lower cortisol levels, but could also improve heart rates and blood pressure. Similarly, another study showed that after 30 minutes of gardening, participants’ cortisol levels dropped and their moods were boosted by the activity.

The takeaway? Spending just half an hour with your hands in the soil, surrounded by vegetation, can provide serious benefits for your body, mind and overall health. Interested? Here are some tips to help you get started.

Keep it Simple

If you’ve never gardened before, you might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a new hobby. The key is to start small and keep it simple. You don’t have to tear up your whole backyard and plant a farm — be realistic about the time and effort you’re willing to put into it. The last thing you want is to be stressed out about your stress-relieving garden!

While it’s great to listen to suggestions and advice from experienced “green thumbs,” this garden is all about you. No, you don’t need a specific type of shoes or apron to do this. Yes, starting with a few potted plants on your porch counts. Gardening is an escape and a hobby, so as soon as it starts feeling like a chore, simplify!

Unplug and Dig In

When you step out to your garden, leave the world behind. Thirty minutes from now, everything will be right where you left it. You’ll devote more than enough hours to texting, emails and social media throughout the rest of your day. When it’s time to weed, plant and till, allow yourself to slow down and disconnect.

Interestingly, studies have shown that multitasking decreases efficiency and that excessive mobile phone use can disrupt sleep and actually increase feelings of stress and depression.  Besides, you don’t want to get soil and grime in the grooves of your smartphone, right? Easy solution — leave it inside!

Stress-Reducing Designs

Ready to take your gardening efforts to the next level? There’s nothing wrong with keeping things small, but this is an opportunity to get creative. Use your imagination when choosing plants and a color palette and let it be a reflection of what you love to see.

For those seeking a little guidance, Dr. Leonard P. Perry at the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science described some of the traits associated with gardens designed for serenity. As he explained, stress-reducing gardens “are often similar to any other woodland or flower garden, only emphasizing certain design principles and colors.”

Live in the Moment

There’s so much to see and do in a garden. Rather than dwelling on the challenges you’re facing or the lengthy to-do list waiting for you, give yourself permission to live in the moment. Notice the birds chirping, the gentle breeze and aromatic scent of soil and vegetation.

Practice mindfulness, a stress-relieving technique, by becoming fully captivated with what’s happening in your garden. Notice the ants scurrying to find shelter, note the color of the blossoms and contemplate the texture of the earth on your fingers. Be fascinated by all of the life that’s happening right before your eyes. It’s life-changing.

Get Down and Dirty!

This spring, for both your mental and physical health, consider planting a garden. As an added benefit, if you grow fruits and vegetables, you’ll have fresh produce to enjoy! No salad will taste better than the one grown by your own hands.

Even if you’ve never had a green thumb, give it a try and see what happens. Set aside 30 minutes, start small and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!

Jeanne is a social sciences professor and writer.

Why You Should Work Less and Spend More Time on Hobbies

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By Gaetano DiNardi

As professionals around the world feel increasingly pressed for time, they’re giving up on things that matter to them. A recent HBR article noted that in surveys, most people “could name several activities, such as pursuing a hobby, that they’d like to have time for.”

This is more significant than it may sound, because it isn’t just individuals who are missing out. When people don’t have time for hobbies, businesses pay a price. Hobbies can make workers substantially better at their jobs. I know this from personal experience. I’ve always loved playing the guitar and composing. But just like workers everywhere, I can fall into the trap of feeling that I have no time to engage in it. As head of demand generation for Nextiva, I have enough on my plate to keep me busy around the clock. I can easily fall into the trap of the “72-hour workweek,” which takes into account time people spend connected to work on our phones outside of official work hours.

When I crash, there’s always the temptation to do something sedentary and mindless. It’s little surprise that watching TV is by far the most popular use of leisure time in the U.S. and tops the list elsewhere as well, including Germany and England.

But by spending time on music, I boost some of my most important workplace skills.

Creativity. To stand out and compete in today’s crowded and constantly changing business environment, organizations need new, innovative ideas that will rise above the noise. I’m tasked with constantly looking for new ways to attract attention from potential buyers. But coming up with a fully original idea can be difficult when your mind is filled with targets, metrics, and deadlines.

A creative hobby pulls you out of all that. Whether you’re a musician, artist, writer, or cook, you often start with a blank canvas in your mind. You simply think: What will I create that will evoke the emotion I’m going for?

It’s no surprise that by giving yourself this mental space, and focusing on feelings, you can reawaken your creativity. Neuroscientists have found that rational thought and emotions involve different parts of the brain. For the floodgates of creativity to open, both must be in play.

Perspective. One of the trickiest tasks in the creative process is thinking through how someone else would experience your idea. But in doing creative hobbies, people think that way all the time. A potter imagines how the recipient of a vase would respond to it. A mystery novelist considers whether an unsuspecting reader will be surprised by a plot twist.

When I take a break from work to go make music, I reconnect with that perspective. I keep thinking about how someone hearing my song for the first time might respond. I do all I can to see (or hear) the world through someone else’s eyes (or ears). Then, when I resume the work project, I take that mentality with me.

Confidence. When I face a tough challenge at work and feel stymied, I can start to question whether I’ll ever figure out a successful solution. It’s easy to lose creative confidence. But after an hour of shredding on the guitar, hitting notes perfectly, I’m feeling good. I can tell that my brain was craving that kind of satisfaction. And when I face that work project again, I bring the confidence with me.

It turns out people like me have been studied. In one study, researchers found that “creative activity was positively associated with recovery experiences (i.e., mastery, control, and relaxation) and performance‐related outcomes (i.e., job creativity and extra‐role behaviors).” In fact, they wrote, “Creative activity while away from work may be a leisure activity that provides employees essential resources to perform at a high level.”

So to my fellow professionals, I highly recommend taking some time to keep up your creative hobby. It doesn’t have to be long. A study found that spending 45 minutes making art helps boost someone’s confidence and ability to complete tasks.

I also suggest you encourage your business to celebrate employees’ hobbies. Zappos puts employee artwork up on its walls and encourages people to decorate their desks in whatever ways they wish. Some businesses hold talent shows. Even employees who may not have these kinds of talents should be encouraged to do something that feels creative and fun. Some CEOs spend time on their own hobbies, setting the right example.

And when you find a little time for a creative hobby break, make it guilt free. After all, when you do this, everyone stands to gain.

Why Having A Hobby Is So Good For Your Mental Health

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By Sarah Garone

How do you answer when someone asks, “What are your hobbies?” Playing guitar, competing in triathlons, decorating show-stopping cakes? As it turns out, engaging in a hobby means more than just having something to chat about at parties or fill your Saturdays with. Research shows that keeping up with the activities that interest us actually has measurable benefits for mental health.

Wondering how your knitting project or instrument practice could bring you peace of mind? We chatted with Dr. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist, musician, and consultant for Fender’s guitar-learning app Fender Play about various ways investing in a hobby enriches the life of the mind.

Woman playing guitar

HOBBIES MAKE US GET CREATIVE

Many hobbies are inherently creative. Whether you’re painting, woodworking, or baking muffins, you’re not only producing something that never existed before, you’re engaging the creative network of your brain. Creative pursuits are experimental acts, says Dr. Levitin: “These acts of experimentation expand the neural networks in our brains, making connections between circuits in the brain that might not have otherwise been connected.” This type of neural linking-up boosts mood in a measurable way. It actually modulates levels of the feel-good hormones dopamine and opioids in the brain, says Dr. Levitin. And although popular perception tends to associate “creative types” with mental illness, research indicates that imaginative pursuits are actually restorative for mental health.

While engaged in a creative hobby, you may also find yourself in a mental state known as “flow.” Described by psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi, the concept of “flow” is sometimes better known as getting “in the zone.” It occurs when you’re engaged in an activity to the point of almost meditative focus. Ever find that when you sit down to or scrapbook or play piano, your mind doesn’t even wander? That’s flow. Getting into this focused state promotes mindfulness, known for its positive effects on stress and anxiety.

HOBBIES BOOST SELF-IMAGE

When your self-image needs a pick-me-up, you might typically take to social media to rack up likes on a cute photo or funny meme. But for better results, try diving into your favorite hobby. Spending time on your own leisure pursuit is a self-care gift you give yourself — and some hobbies result in actual gifts you can give others. Taking pride in a handmade card or blessing friends with your musical talents could go a long way toward boosting your good vibes.

Hobbies also serve to keep the blues away by helping us hone valuable expertise. Maybe your years of dabbling in web design could lead you to teach a class on it, or perhaps your persistence with running has helped you place in your most recent competitive 5K. This type of skills mastery has been associated with reduced psychological distress. Tellingly, a survey conducted by Fender found that people who played guitar as a hobby had “increased patience, confidence in self and skills, work ethic and persistence.” Sounds like devoting time to improving a skill could make you feel like a rockstar (even if you’re not playing guitar).

HOBBIES CONNECT US WITH OTHERS

A number of hobbies are meant to be performed in a group, or lend themselves well to collaborating with others. Picking up a new pastime can be a great way to meet new people and establish friendships. Shared experiences enhance our enjoyment of activities and help us to feel less isolated. Dr. Levitin confirms this phenomenon: “People who play music together experience increased levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social relationships and bonding.” So if you’re looking for the best hobby for your mental well-being, try something interactive, like joining a band or improv group.

With some hobbies, of course, it’s natural to fly solo. (Let’s be honest, it’s a little difficult to do sudoku in a group.) But even your solo pursuits make you a more diverse and interesting person — qualities that attract social engagement.

HOBBIES DECREASE STRESS

Finally, hobbies simply give us a break we can look forward to. Creative hobbies in particular “are the perfect antidote to high-stress jobs of multitasking and computer-based work,” says Dr. Levitin. (We’d argue that physical hobbies are too!) Turning to something non-work-related allows us to “hit the reset button in the brain, replenishing neurochemicals in the brain that have been depleted by a few hours of high-stress work,” he says.

As long as you enjoy your hobby, it really doesn’t matter what it is. Research shows that both physical health and mental health benefit when we use our leisure time for something constructive but fun. So whether it’s continuing your lifelong love affair with soccer or picking up the guitar for the first time, maybe it’s time to make your favorite hobby a priority.

The Important Health-Related Reason You Should Have More Hobbies, According to a Psychologist

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Whether you pick up knitting or join a book club, hobbies are a fun way to wind down and tap into your creative side. They could also, it turns out, make you a happier person.

We recently checked in with Barbara Nosal, Ph.D., chief clinical officer at Newport Academy, for her tips on combatting seasonal affective disorder (which, per the American Psychiatric Association, affects roughly 5 percent of U.S. adults). One of her suggestions? Spend time doing things you love.

This seems like a no-brainer, but, especially in the depths of winter, it can be really tempting to veg out 24/7. Don’t cave into the temptation: Spending time with friends or keeping up with hobbies, according to Dr. Nosal, fills “an intellectual, creative or social need, as well as builds self-esteem and self-confidence—bolstering against or lowering the intensity of SAD symptoms.” So basically, resist the overwhelming urge to hibernate until spring and instead spend time reading or cooking or learning pretty much anything.