Dr. Kelly Lambert, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond, talked about "behaviorceuticals," a term she coined for what happens when we move and participate in activities that "change the neurochemistry of our brain in ways that a drug can change the neurochemistry of our brain."
Data from Dr. Lambert's research with rats showed that the rats that have to use their paws to reach a treat did better than what she called the "trust-fund" rats, or other subjects that were simply given the treats. The rats that didn't have to work to receive the rewards had high levels of stress hormones. Additionally, the trust-fund rats weren't as emotionally resilient. Meanwhile, the rats that worked with their paws and searched for the treats, had "a better sense of self-efficacy."
Psychologists use the term self-efficacy to refer to an individual that can be "successful at behaviors that change one's environment in a rewarding way." In other words, if you have a sense of self-efficacy, you're confident that you have what it takes to be a happy person.
Applying these animal-driven results to humans points to extensive substantial evidence of similar phenomena. For example, there has been renewed interest in knitting, both in old and young people alike. (Related: Sewing Your Way To Better Mental Health.)
Findings for a separate study conducted by Knit for Peace U.K., a charity that believes knitting is a hobby that offers many benefits, determined that knitting can help delay the onset of dementia and allow individuals to manage their anxiety and depression. Additionally, the results of the study, which observed over 15,000 knitters in the U.K., showed that knitting can help chronic pain sufferers focus on something besides their debilitating condition.
The results of another study, which was published in The Journal of Positive Psychology in 2016, showed that taking the time to work on creative goals daily had a positive effect on psychological functioning. In fact, people who actively pursued creative endeavors, even if the positive psychological impact only lasted for an hour or two, reaped benefits that extended to until the next day.
On days when you're feeling down or anxious, try to start a new hobby or activity that will involve working with your hands, such as knitting or learning how to play an instrument. It might not seem like it, but your new hobby could significantly affect your mental health and happiness.
If you're not sure if knitting is for you, here are some other hobbies that you can try:
You can learn more about knitting and other hobbies that can boost your mental health and happiness at Mind.news.