5 easy hobbies that every doctor should consider

By Alistair Gardiner
Published October 15, 2020

Key Takeaways

For decades, research has shown that physicians are experiencing more stress and burnout.

Physicians might not even realize that they’re close to burning out. According to a 2018 survey of more than 3,700 doctors from across the country and almost every specialty, most physicians recognized the symptoms in their colleagues but not themselves. What’s more, doctors tend to avoid seeking help, as two-thirds of respondents said they would never consider working with a mental health professional.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. A recent survey found that most American physicians said the pandemic has intensified their feelings of burnout. Some attributed the stress to treating patients who were likely to die, while others noted that they had been exposed to the virus while working without proper personal protective equipment.

What can be done to help physicians alleviate stress? Aside from systemic change, various studies show that among clinicians who care for seriously and terminally ill patients, self-care strategies may be best for promoting wellbeing and reducing stress.

To help physicians develop self-care plans and reduce the stress inherent to a high-impact job, here are 5 hobbies that can lead to less stress and a more manageable life.


Yoga is probably the most popular activity for relieving stress, with study after study recommending yoga, sometimes combined with meditation, as a daily relaxation technique.

Yoga is helpful in tackling a wide range of stress-related mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. This can spur positive physiological effects, from reduced heart rate to lower blood pressure. When it comes to relieving stress, yoga can be as effective as meditation or even socializing with friends.

And there’s more: According to some studies, yoga also improves self-confidence, strengthens interpersonal relationships, increases attentiveness, lowers irritability, and encourages an optimistic outlook on life.


Not excited about trying out the tree pose? Other kinds of exercise can work wonders for people in high-stress jobs, as suggested by several studies.

Some findings point to cardiovascular exercise as the best way to increase feelings of well-being and decrease psychological stress. Or, strenuous workouts like resistance training can be the most beneficial.

But you don’t necessarily have to break a sweat or work your muscles to the point of aching to achieve the benefits of exercise. Over the years, studies have shown that simply taking regular strolls is enough to reduce stress and boost wellbeing. Researchers also found that nature walks are effective in preventing mental health conditions like depression.

And if none of that sounds appealing, you can always try some of the less obvious forms of exercise—say, dancing. As with any form of physical exertion, dancing causes the brain to release the happiness-inducing neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Indeed, one notable study found that dancing might be even more effective than regular exercise when it comes to curbing stress. The study, conducted at the University of London, assigned patients with anxiety disorders to take one of four classes: a modern-dance class, an exercise class, a music class, or a math class. Researchers found that only those who opted for the dance class found it significantly cut their anxiety.


But all that noise and physical exertion aren’t for everyone. For those who prefer to relax in a more sedentary way, reading could be the answer.

According to a study performed at the University of Sussex, reading not only reduces stress but it can also help to ease muscle tensions and slow heart rate. The study found that even just 6 minutes of reading a day could help slash stress levels by about 66%.

Another study, published in BJU International Journal, found that physicians who read more have a lower rate of burnout than those who read less. The study noted a link between the reading of non-medical books and a lower likelihood of burnout. So, don’t think of reading as more study time—try to leave work at work and escape your stresses in fiction, poetry, or juicy non-fiction.

Writing, music, and art

Still drawing a blank? Consider writing, painting, playing music, or some other creative endeavor.

Numerous studies have found that writing—and especially writing about experiences that induce stress—can help increase well-being and decrease stress and anxiety.

But writing isn’t the only artsy hobby to curtail stress. Spending time every day on any creative goal can lead to improved psychological well-being, studies suggest.


While it may seem like an indulgence, a number of studies highlight the importance of vacations and downtime as a key part of a good stress-relief strategy.

One American Psychological Association study found that vacations take the edge off by removing people from environments they associate with stress and anxiety. Vacations also benefit physical health, with studies finding links between taking trips and lowering the risk of heart attack. Vacationing has also been shown to improve levels of productivity.

Other studies have found that staying at a resort can produce improvements in well-being by controlling biological processes related to stress (with even better results in participants who practiced meditation during vacation). Even a vacation as short as 4 days can provide benefits that last as long as a month and a half.

Don’t wait to find your helpful hobby

Whatever your preferred mode of destressing, don’t put it off. Create a self-care plan and stick to whichever activities you’ve scheduled. In a blog post on KevinMD, Maria Yang, MD, summed it up best: “You will have terrible days while you’re in training and when you’re working. You have a front seat in the theater of human drama. These other hobbies will help you remember that you are a multifaceted person, that you are not your job.”

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