Why everyone needs an outlet for better health

Stepping away from the daily grind to spend time on a hobby, passion project or even just get lost in a book can do wonders for your life and health.

Finding an outlet is beneficial for your mental and physical health, and can help with everything from bringing on calm to fostering new ideas and even making us more productive, according to a review of literature in the American Journal of Public Health.

Here’s how taking time out can ultimately lead to better health.

Leisure time makes us happier

What better reason to indulge in the things you like doing than that it can lead to increased happiness?

Positive psychology expert Stephanie Harrison says leisure time is crucial for our overall health and psychological wellbeing.

“It offers us a chance to pursue activities for their own sake — because they bring us joy, fulfilment, mastery, a sense of control over our lives, or are just plain fun,” says Stephanie, founder of The New Happy.

US research found people showed lower levels of negative moods and depression, and more positive attitudes when engaged in leisure activities.

Doing what you love can relieve stress

The same US study found that engaging in leisure activities led to improvement in daily health and wellbeing, with participants reporting they felt 34 per cent less stressed while engaging in a hobby.

This may be because experiencing something enjoyable or fun can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, says psychotherapist Pauline McKinnon, founder the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre.

She says the sympathetic nervous system is where all our activity comes from, including stress and anxiety.

“(To deal with stress) we need to do things that will nurture the parasympathetic nervous system, so that it can balance out overactivity from the sympathetic nervous system, allowing us to feel on a much more even keel,” she says.

With stress linked to a higher risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, finding time to work on that jigsaw puzzle seems all the more important.

Creative outlets can make you more productive

A San Francisco State University study found creative activities had a flow-on effect for work skills such as creative problem solving.

“Research has found that the act of stepping away and disconnecting from work and responsibilities, however briefly, is what allows us to truly rejuvenate and rebuild our resources, so that we can return to them with energy,” Stephanie says.

“Without those moments of rejuvenation, there’s no way we can achieve our peak performance in our work.”

How to discover the outlet that will bring you joy

If you are yet to find a hobby you love, Stephanie suggests thinking of leisure time as comprising different buckets: recharge, grow, and play.

“Make a list of a few activities that help you to fill each of those buckets (or even cover more than one — for example, reading might help you to grow and recharge at the same time), then, try them out and see how they feel,” she says.

“If you feel better during and afterwards, it’s a great candidate for continual practice.

“It’s also helpful to make sure you’re prioritising them: block off time on your calendar and treat it like it’s an important work appointment.”

Written by Tania Gomez.