Leisure and Mental Health: How Hobbies Help Me Manage Bipolar Disorder

on May 15, 2024
Leisure and Mental Health: How Hobbies Help Me Manage Bipolar Disorder

The longer I live with bipolar disorder, the more seriously I take my hobbies. This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but my activities outside of work and family are some of the best tools I’ve found to help manage my mood. I have many hobbies, including drawing, hiking, and bookbinding. In this post, I’ll explain how leisure activities have become a vital part of my mental health toolkit. I’ll also mention some of the considerations and limitations I keep in mind to make sure I’m approaching my hobbies in a healthy way.

Art Therapy

I didn’t think about purposefully using hobbies to improve my health until the first time I was hospitalized. I’d had my first severe manic episode and was struggling to comprehend what was happening to me. An art therapist came to our unit one afternoon and asked us to draw a picture of how we felt when our mood was poor, and a second picture of how we felt when our mood was stable. My colored pencil drawings of closed curtains versus sunlit windows were barely recognizable as anything other than abstract shapes. But while I made those lines on paper, I felt better than I had in days.

I’d given up on art after high school because I wasn’t particularly good at it. That art therapy lesson in the hospital showed me I didn’t have to be a brilliant artist to enjoy making art. I enjoyed drawing. It made me feel better. From that point on, I’ve considered my hobbies and leisure activities to be an important contributor to my overall health and mental balance.

Variety Helps

Because my mood and energy levels vary, I find it helpful to have a variety of ways to include leisure in my day. I’ve always had a broad range of interests, so it makes sense to me that I pursue a broad range of hobbies. I also find it helps to have a mix of light, low commitment activities, and more long-term projects and hobbies. This keeps me from fixating or putting too much pressure on any single pursuit.

I still draw a few times a week. Over the years I’ve also learned how to turn my drawings into short animations, which I share online and with friends. I’m not a great artist, but my abilities have gradually improved over the years and I’m occasionally very happy with the results. Sometimes when I’m feeling agitated, or when my mood is low, drawing simple shapes for twenty minutes or so helps me connect to stillness, and calms my nerves.

It took getting a Great Pyrenees mix to make me fall in love with daily walks. Living in the southern Appalachian mountains, every walk we go on is actually a mountain hike, and just twenty minutes on our trail feels like a workout. I used to struggle to exercise regularly, but walking outside has become one of the best parts of my day. I love being surrounded by nature and experiencing the elements and changing seasons. The movement invigorates me, and I sleep better at night for having exercised.

Several years ago, I started learning the craft of bookbinding. I’ve always loved books, and I enjoy understanding how everyday objects are designed and assembled. It’s become my favorite hobby. I almost always have a book in some stage of production.

Setting Limits

Learning how to make hand-bound books and blank journals was a larger undertaking than drawing or hiking. I knew from past experience that I sometimes get too invested in planning. In the past, mania has inspired me to buy equipment I’ve never used, for hobbies I’ve never even started. I also have to tendency to overestimate my own ability to multitask, especially when I’m excited about a new project. I used to take on too many activities at once, and later feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and discouraged because I couldn’t follow through on all of my commitments. To keep this from happening again, I decided to set some parameters before I began.

Starting out, I only used materials I already had around the house. Printer paper, a needle and sewing thread were enough to make my first books. My other self-imposed guidelines are to not start new projects until I’ve completed the one I’m currently working on, and to only purchase the materials needed for my current project. I also try to set realistic goals for how long each project will take to complete, and stick to that timetable as closely as I’m able.

Leisure activities and social interaction

Leisure activities can also provide a great opportunity for meaningful social interaction. My father and I both love poetry, so once a week we meet for coffee and discuss one or two poems we’ve chosen ahead of time. Similarly, a good friend of mine and I both love movies, so every few weeks we pick a film to watch and then discuss it on a video call. I enjoy these activities, and they give me a reason to be social and interact with other people even when I might not feel like it.


Finding leisure activities and hobbies you enjoy can be a vital part of living a full life with bipolar disorder. My hobbies give me different ways to express myself, connect to nature and the world around me, and interact meaningfully with other people. All of these things make a significant difference in my overall mood, and contribute to my sense of satisfaction with myself and my life. Like taking medicine, or showing up to therapy, a routine that includes time for leisure helps to mitigate some of my bipolar disorder symptoms, and builds my resiliency for future episodes.

Evelyn Anne Clausen is a freelance writer from Atlanta, GA, now living in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. She has written for Slate.com, RELEVANT Magazine, The Backstage Beat, and numerous blogs and websites. She believes a full and meaningful life with bipolar disorder is attainable, and is grateful for the many people and organizations who have supported her in this pursuit.

Related Posts

Relapse: Return of an Old Foe
I recently had a relapse. It shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise since bipolar disorder is cyclical in nature, and I’d also made a…
Learnings from 500+ Consecutive Days of Journaling
Journaling is something I’d dabbled in throughout my life but had never really committed to. What did I even have to write about? Why spend…
The Bipolar Clock: Stabilize Mood by Resetting Your Body Clock | Dr. Holly Swartz | #talkBD EP 40 🌓
  Award-winning researcher Dr. Holly Swartz breaks down the “bipolar clock”, and proposes a fresh approach to take charge of your bipolar symptoms by timing…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *