Mental health problems, although sadly widespread, are manageable with some help.
Engaging in enjoyable activities, like hobbies or sports, is associated with lower blood pressure, less stress, and higher levels of both psychological and physical function. There are small changes you can make to your life that can help improve your mental health - we’ve explained how and why below. Of course, if you’re concerned about your mental health or consistently feel anxious, depressed, or otherwise have a very low mood, speak to your doctor. Together, you can both help improve your mental health.
Physical Activity, Mental Health, and You
While a common result of a diagnosis of mental illness is a pharmacological one - you’re prescribed daily tablets to help even out your brain chemistry - pharmacological solutions aren’t the only ones that can positively impact your mental health. Doctors can now prescribe cognitive-behavioural therapy as well as recommend a variety of activities. One of the common recommendations is for you to be physically active every day. Exercise has a well-documented history of improving mood and decreasing the symptoms of mental health issues like depression.
The Science: Why Physical Activity Helps Improve Your Mental Health
Any kind of physical activity, from running to cycling to playing a sport or even swimming or deep-water diving, can do this. Scientists have a variety of hypotheses for why that might be: an oft-expressed theory is that physical activity releases endorphins that lead to a positive mood and a general sense of well-being, or that exercise increases the amount of serotonin (a chemical inhibited by depression) in some regions of the brain. Exercise also provides a distraction from the worries and low thoughts that can be a drain on your mood.
Alternatives: Your Interests and Your Mental Health
Some people may be unwilling or unable to be physically active, but that doesn’t mean your mental health is solely in the hands of a drug or a therapist. Developing in a creative or engaging hobby can have similar effects to exercise on the brain as well as on your mental health. Creative hobbies like creative writing, sketching, and DIY projects can help you to be more successful as well as make you happier by increasing the length and frequency of positive moods.
The science behind why hobbies help to improve your mental health is also not entirely clear - it may be a serotonin or endorphin-raising activity, like physical activity, or it may be that engagement with something that isn’t your low thoughts or your obligations can be both a welcome break and a positive influence. Whatever the reason, having a hobby - writing stories, learning card tricks, the possibilities extend as far as your own imagination - is a positive influence on your mental health.
Mental health problems usually take effect by the age of 21, meaning that you’re managing them from a fairly young age. Especially at stressful times in your life, like university, parenting, or heightened expectations at work, managing any existing mental health problems is crucial to how we function and to our happiness. Having a hobby, whether it’s a sport or something non-physical, can play a huge role in that.
This article was kindly written and contributed by Cassie Steele.
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