THE BLOG

Feeling Stressed? Then Find a Hobby and Learn to Relax

09/09/2014 14:00 BST | Updated 08/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Far too many of us living in large cities or busy communities find ourselves leading fast and furious lives. With ever more competitive working conditions some run the risk of becoming stressed, anxious or depressed resulting in a decreasing quality of life, sleep disturbance, drug and alcohol abuse, and poor performance. Stress can, and will at some point in many peoples lives take a heavy toll on our minds and bodies, with acute stress having an adverse effect on our health. Stress can suppress our immune functions and lead to a possible increase of infections and ailments, including hypertension, digestive disturbances, heart disorders and other distressing conditions which could shorten our life expectancy.

It is therefore important to recognise when things are getting out of hand, and to find a method of controlling our stress levels in order to maintain good health. Of course doctors can help control our anxieties by prescribing drugs or a variety of psychological techniques, but having a hobby could help take you out of your stressful life for a while. The Oxford Dictionary defines a hobby as "A favourite occupation not one's main business".

Personally I think it is within most of us to find a hobby or an activity which can help us "switch off" by doing something that could be invigorating, relaxing, educational, fun or if you are lucky, a little of everything. Many people find that an appropriate programme of physical activity does the trick for them, since exercise has been proven to have positive effects on health. But if exercise is to be effective in inducing relaxation, as well as physical prowess, then it must be non competitive, moderate in intensity, and pursued in pleasant surroundings. From my own experience of 45 years working in the fitness business I know this is proven to be both reliable and enjoyable.

Hobbies and other leisure activities can have many health benefits and there is evidence to prove that staying mentally active may actually help delay Alzheimer's disease and keep our minds sharp. A hobby can not only prevent the harmful effects of stress but make life richer and more rewarding. My hobby is to draw and paint and when doing so I can lose myself for hours and forget the worries of the world. Studies have shown there can be a direct connection between painting and a reduction of stress levels. Its long been acknowledged that Clinical art therapy, used by therapists to encourage self-expression and improve communication for patients suffering from severe mental health conditions are effective. Individuals affected by severe anxiety or stress are known to benefit from expressing their creative side through developing their painting skills, often in the company of others. Many hobbies help lonely people feel connected by encouraging them to interact with others, sometimes in a class of people who share the same interest.

Being involved in the process of making a picture is very therapeutic, but no one method works for everybody and other people find different ways to alleviate their stress. The secret is to choose a hobby that not only sparks your interest but engages you mentally, gives you an outlet to explore your creativity and makes you a more rounded, interesting person. People who do take time off from their routine work to pursue their hobby are more likely to be active, busy and cheerful.

As the saying goes "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". I have worked hard all my life but try to find time for my hobbies, another of which is travel. It's thrilling to visit new places, to meet with different kinds of people of various cultures, and it also gives me the chance to capture the atmosphere in paint! As an author I find writing similarly as therapeutic to painting, the method of capturing what I see around me is the same exciting process. In both instances I am confronted with a blank piece of paper and the determination to put down and record what I see and feel. The creative process is the same, the desire to capture the moment, albeit in images or words. Creating a picture in words or paint is hard work and the first marks I make on that blank paper or canvas are the most challenging.

Having a hobby can help you achieve a well-balanced lifestyle. Maybe you already unwind through either listening to, or making music? I know many people who find their hobby of cooking, gardening, fishing, photography, travelling or observing nature relaxes them. Most of us need to try out a few pastimes before we discover the one which is most beneficial for us personally. For example gardening develops a sense of eco-responsibility in our minds and can keep us in touch with Nature. A garden full of trees, flowers, vegetables and fruit not only looks beautiful but can give endless hours of pleasure. Gardening is another of my hobbies, delighting my senses and giving me relief from a world full of tension and pollution. And I get to paint the flowers!

Yes, painting pictures is still my number one hobby, or to be more precise my passion and I indulge it whenever I can! I've always had the desire to draw whatever I've seen around me and as a child it was my dream to become an artist. But my strict father insisted painting was a precarious profession, and he was right of course! I may be an adequate amateur artist but only the truly exceptional make it in the art world! At my Grammar School I was taught to draw and paint which opened up endless possibilities of style, colour, media and technique. Painting never lost its appeal but busy intervening years restricted my time, however now in my 70's I'm fortunate to have more opportunity to pursue my passion.

My preferred medium is oils and my strengths are painting still life and landscapes. Painting in oils allow me the freedom to be spontaneous, to re-act quickly to drama - a vision, a colour, light or shade with the comfortable knowledge that changes can be made to the picture at a later stage. I particularly enjoy painting views and everywhere I look around me I see a scene, a colour, a light or a mood I want to capture. My favourite artist and my inspiration is the dramatic French impressionist Claude Monet. Like Monet I am enchanted by water and the lights and shades that play upon it. I suppose being a "Green Goddess" it follows that I love plants and trees too and am fascinated by the reflections of every colour they create alongside water.

Living as I do at the side of a river and with many beautiful lakes in the area I have no shortage of inspiration. Painting in oils is my preferred medium although I must admit oil painting can get a bit messy at times! I often work as a motivational speaker aboard cruise ships enabling me to travel the world, but always carry a sketchpad and paints in my luggage.

I find painting in water colour more restrictive, although a practical medium when I am travelling. For me the technique is more challenging because of the need to be disciplined, and to plan ahead. This is necessary in order to avoid disasters, because mistakes are harder to rectify in water colours. I become uptight, tend to lose my spontaneity and consequently find this medium less therapeutic to work in than oils. But I intend to keep on trying!

I've recently started working with acrylic paints which I find exciting because the technique is a combination of both oil and water colour disciplines. However one advantage of painting in acrylics is that mistakes can be rectified and changes easily made as they can when one paints with oils. Because travelling is an important part of my life acrylics also have the advantage (along with water colour) of being less messy, less paraphernalia required than oils, quick to dry and easy to transport. But whenever possible I opt to paint in my preferred medium oils in the style of Monet, and preferably like him, out in the open air! My aim is to simplify what I see, to try to capture a momentary impression instead of laboriously painting detail and exactly what I see. This allows me to work quickly and gives me the freedom to experiment with colours and techniques.

I am by no means an "accomplished "artist but I do enjoy creating a picture full of colour and passion. When I finally finish a painting to the best of my ability in whatever media, I am exhausted, but then whoever said painting was easy? But I will admit to deriving pleasure when I can stand back to consider my efforts, and with some satisfaction think to myself wow - I did that!

We most of us need and should have some 'me time' in which the responsibilities of modern life can be forgotten! For myself dedicating some time on a regular basis to painting helps me achieve this balance. So what is it about painting that has this positive effect? Well one of the main reasons that art therapy has proved to be successful is due to the accumulative effects of several well known key benefits associated with the act of painting. These benefits include self-care, distraction and flow. So how does this work? Self-care means taking care of yourself and taking part in activities purely for the benefit or your own well-being. From the moment I get out my paints, brushes, canvas or board I begin the process of creating. The creative act is a great way of distracting my thoughts from whatever is causing me stress or anxiety. During my hours of painting I can dwell calmly on my concerns, see things more clearly, which helps me to deal with problems and put them into perspective.

I am lost in thought for hours whilst I paint. Often I disregard meal times and with good music in the background I am temporarily - distracted. Of course it is only a momentary effect, but I find that the relaxation gained is so beneficial. Painting helps me to achieve a positive state of mind - known as "flow". This state of mind occurs when an individual doing an activity is totally immersed with strong feelings of involvement and focus. Ideally this is what all hobbies should deliver to the individual participating.

Hobbies are more than just ways to creatively pass the time; they are good for your mind and body. Hobbies give pleasure and can soothe the soul and a hobby should not be pursued to make a profit nor need it be expensive. So set aside some time where you can do something simply for the purpose of self-enjoyment.

The artistic pursuit of painting is certainly the one which helps me counter the stress caused by my hectic modern lifestyle. My creative product isn't of any commercial value, but does give me satisfaction and I gain so much from the dedication and hard work I put into it. The list of hobbies and pastimes is never ending so I do hope you can find one that works for you!