Having fun is a health intervention

Exploring the Link Between Hobbies and Mental Health in Teens

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What do you like to do in your spare time? It’s a common ice-breaking question, whether on the first day of school, at a youth group, or at a job interview. Many teens, however, struggle to answer this question if they lack spare time in their busy schedules or find their main mode of relaxation from the day’s demands is scrolling through social media. Stress seems a constant companion for today’s teens, and when left unchecked, it can combine with other symptoms to become a mental health condition like depression or anxiety. Engaging in meaningful activities like hobbies is a healthy way to reduce overwhelm and find relief from daily stressors. 

The connection between hobbies and mental health

There is no single list of perfect activities to improve mental health. Rather, teens should pursue one or more hobbies that match their interests and skills. When done regularly, engaging in hobbies offers many possible benefits.

  • Promotes relaxation: Between academic demands, family expectations, and social pressures, teens experience increased stress as they grow. Activities like making art or playing music can reduce levels of stress-related hormones, such as cortisol, in the body, making it possible to relax, even in stressful situations.
  • Reduces rumination: In psychology, rumination refers to repetitive thinking or dwelling on negative feelings. Mentally replaying events that didn’t go as planned is common among adolescents and can contribute to feelings of depression. As positive distractions, hobbies can provide a much-needed disruption to repetitive thought processes.
  • Improves self-esteem: The regular practice of a hobby improves skills over time, giving teens a sense of accomplishment. Whether earning a new belt in martial arts or mastering a challenging photography technique, teens can look back at where they started and recognize that they are capable of significant accomplishments.
  • Increases physical health: Many hobbies, such as sports and outdoor activities, are physical in nature, offering additional benefits like improved heart health, sleep, and weight management. Physical activity also improves mental well-being by releasing brain endorphins, which are chemicals that relieve pain and boost mood.
  • Expands social circles: Social hobbies like theater, dance, book clubs, and team sports can expose teens to new people they may not have otherwise met. They might connect with youth from vastly different backgrounds, forming friendships while increasing their capacity for empathy and gaining new communication skills.
  • Creates a toolbox of coping skills: When overwhelmed, teens who do not engage in at least one healthy hobby are more likely to turn to destructive measures, such as withdrawal from others, substance use, or self-harm. Regularly participating in meaningful and enjoyable activities makes it easier for teens to utilize such activities to gain relief from distress.

Hobbies for teens in Tempe, Arizona

Teens living in the East Valley have access to several local resources when pursuing new hobbies. Whether their interests lie in the arts, sports, or community service, Tempe and its surrounding cities offer accessible programming and beautiful scenery.

  • The arts: For those interested in learning new artistic skills, Tempe Parks and Recreation offers many affordable studio classes, such as painting, sculpture, photography, and crochet. Theater kids have several youth companies to explore, including Childsplay and the East Valley Children’s Theater. Those interested in music and dance can visit nearby Solid Rock Teen Center, an organization founded by Alice Cooper that offers free after-school lessons and vocational training.
  • Sports/exercise: Tempe Parks and Recreation also offers many physical activities, including swim lessons, tennis, and group exercise classes. Tempe Town Lake provides access to unique water activities like paddleboarding and youth rowing teams. Pickleball, which has exploded in popularity, can be played year round in Tempe’s several indoor courts, which prevent the summer heat from cutting playing time short. When the weather permits, hiking trails are also a great way to get some exercise while taking in the desert views. 
  • Community service: East Valley teens have access to several programs through which they can gain new skills while serving their community and meeting like-minded peers. Programs like the Tempe Summer Youth Volunteer Program (SYVP) offer opportunities to volunteer at special interest camps, library classes, and museums.

Making time for mental health activities

  • Evaluate priorities: Sometimes what we say is important does not align with our chosen practices. Take some time to make two lists. First, list ways you prefer to spend your time based on your personal values. Do you want to have dinner with family most nights of the week? Rollerblade at the park? Take a Spanish class? Then, note how you have actually spent your downtime during the past week. If your two lists differ significantly,  consider how you can better align your second list with your values.
  • Conduct a time audit: Taking the previous strategy a step further, make a detailed log (ideally in 15 or 30 minute segments) of how you have spent several days . Once you have a clear log of how much time you spend on activities you hope to reduce (e.g., scrolling social media, streaming videos), you can mindfully replace those activities with healthier pursuits. 
  • Make a hobby easier to access: Though you may lack large chunks of time to devote to a hobby, keeping hobby materials at hand can make it more likely that you will engage with them when you have a short break. For example, keep an art journal close so you can sketch during a homework break, take your camera with you when running errands, or use a brief break to research which new hiking trail you want to visit on the weekend.

Hobbies are an important part of a teen’s self-care routine, as they offer multiple physical and mental benefits. For youth struggling with mental health challenges like depression or anxiety, routinely engaging in meaningful and fun activities can reduce symptoms by providing healthy distractions, improving social connections, and disrupting negative thought patterns. 

Although hobbies provide much-needed relief from life’s ongoing stressors, they are not always sufficient for those with more complex emotional and behavioral health needs. Therapy services like those offered in Modern Recovery’s teen therapy program can provide additional support for teens who need a comprehensive approach. This program’s highly skilled therapists help youth forge healthier, more productive lives. For teens who struggle to incorporate hobbies into their routines due to mental health challenges, therapy offers tools—such as effective coping skills— and strategies for putting such skills into action.