2021 is supposed to be the year Things Get Better — but we’re not quite there yet. Many of us are still spending tons of time at home, trying hard to keep deep anxiety, stress, and straight up boredom from spiraling out of control.
Picking up a hobby can help. Honing a new skill gives you a fresh sense of purpose and temporarily takes your mind off all the bad things, tamping down your body’s production of stress hormones and even motivating you to make healthier choices overall. Oh, and you’ll end up spending less time on your phone.
The key is finding an activity that’s as relaxing as it is satisfying. Here are 10 worth trying that’ll help you chill out and leave you feeling energized instead of drained.
1. Learn (or re-learn) an instrument
Pick up the guitar, sit down at a keyboard, or dust off the clarinet you haven’t touched since middle school. Playing music actually leads to changes in your brain that that improve your emotional health, decrease stress and anxiety, and even help you feel more connected to others.
Try it: Learn your way around a guitar, bass, or even ukulele with the Fender Play app, which serves up short step-by-step lessons that teach you how to play the songs you love. Come summer, plan to host some serious park jam sessions.
2. Dive into DIY home renos
Tackling your own home projects doesn’t just save you money and help you sidestep the whole safety issue of having work people in your space. It can actually be a creative outlet that boosts your mental health.
Dreaming up your spruced up space is a way to both express and learn about yourself — and the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you’re finished is a serious mood lifter.
Try it: Supplement those YouTube tutorials with a go-to guidebook for home repair projects, like The Family Handyman Whole House Repair Guide.
3. Become a puzzle person
Figuring out how all those pieces fit together calls for serious brainpower, meaning you won’t have much mental energy leftover to juggle stressful thoughts while you’re puzzling.
Over time, activating all those different areas of your noggin can actually help protect your cognitive function and help keep your brain young
Try it: Sign up for a subscription service like Completing the Puzzle. Pick your puzzle difficulty level and take as long as you want to finish the puzzle — then when you’re done, send it back using the prepaid shipping label (so it won’t end up collecting dust on your shelf) and get a new one. Rinse, repeat.
4. Try tai chi
The ancient Chinese exercise involves gentle, flowing movements and deep breathing that are ace for slashing stress, boosting your mood, and finding a sense of calm, focused energy. Some evidence even suggests that a regular practice can help you sleep better and strengthen your immune system, so, yeah. Definitely worth doing.
Try it: Since in-person classes probably aren’t an option right now, go virtual with Just Breathe’s on-demand classes instead. Once you get your footing, you can join the old-timers out in the park — if you’re cool with getting up early.
5. Knit something
Sure, getting the hang of it might involve a few frustrating moments. But once you do, manipulating those needles will get you into a mindful zone that’s a lot like, well, meditating.
And that feeling of flow can lower your blood pressure, ease feelings of depression and anxiety, and fight feelings of loneliness. Even if your scarf or hat ends up looking kinda wonky.
Try it: Stitch & Story’s beginner knitting kits have everything you need to get started on your first project — think a beanie, headband, wrist warmers, pom pom hat, or scarf.
6. Go hiking
If you haven’t hopped on the nature walk bandwagon yet, you need to give it a try. The exercise + nature combo is proven to help keep you from ruminating over negative thoughts, helping you stay out of a sadness spiral.
Try it: Let the free AllTrails: Hike, Bike & Run app be your guide. It’s packed with more than 100,000 trail maps, plus reviews and photos from hikers who’ve been there. Use it to check whether a trail is pup- or kid-friendly too.
7. Go forth with flower arranging
It doesn’t matter if you pick out fancy blooms from the florist or grab whatever looks good at the bodega. Arranging your own bouquets can slow your breathing, wash away feelings of anxiety, and generally make your outlook a little sunnier. And you’ll have something pretty to look at all week long.
Try it: You can totally go freestyle with your floral setup. But if you’re looking for some guidance on how to make those grid-worthy arrangements, you’ll find loads of advice and inspiration in Amy Merrick’s gorgeous hardcover book On Flowers: Lessons From an Accidental Florist.
8. Experiment with watercolors
Wielding a paintbrush is a proven stress buster, provided you go with the flow and try not to focus on making your picture perfect. Watercolors are especially nice: The colors are soft and soothing, and just as good, easy to layer and blend.
Try it: The Raphael Watercolor Travel Pan Set has the brushes and high-quality paints you need to get started, all in a sturdy, compact kit that’s easy to store (and perfect for toting to the park in the spring).
9. Pick up pottery
Already tried the painting thing back in April? Dive a little deeper with clay work, another creative outlet that can bring down your levels of the stress hormone cortisol in just 45 minutes, helping you feel calmer and more content. And it’s a double whammy, since you’ll get a major sense of satisfaction every time you drink from that handmade mug or fill up that handmade vase.
Try it: Try one of Crockd’s DIY pottery kits while local classes aren’t available. You can let your creations air dry before painting (it only takes 2 days) or drop them off at a nearby studio with a kiln who can fire it for you — Crockd has a directory with local listings to help you track one down.
10. Make candles
Candle making is a creative outlet that doubles as a meditative experience. And when you’re finished, you’ve got the goods to go full-on hygge. Be sure to save a few to pack up and drop off to your friends or neighbors too — giving is good for your soul, people.
Try it: Betterbee’s beeswax candle making kit has everything you need to make 30 all-natural beeswax tea light candles and 12 votives, including a guidebook for how to keep candling on your own.