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I Started These 5 Hobbies To Take Care Of My Mental Health—Here's What Happened

hobbies for mental health

I used to joke with friends that because of my job as an editor of an online publication, I lived on the internet. I was often guilty of scrolling mindlessly through my social media accounts over brunch or dinner because I felt like my brain was just wired to always be looking for new content we could possibly write about. I had this sort of hyper-awareness that was turned on 24/7. Whenever I felt like slowing down or wanting to disconnect, I’d feel a rush of guilt, because I thought I wasn’t doing my job properly.

And then the pandemic happened, and no one knew what to do with ourselves. For months I found myself in a dark place. I’m a planner by nature—a sigurista. (I’m also a Capricorn, lol.) I was also the ~*tribute*~ of my family, meaning I did the groceries and errands because I didn’t want my elderly parents to go out and risk catching the virus. I can’t count the times I broke down and cried for no apparent reason over the past year. (It turns out, I wasn’t alone!) But if there’s something that I got out of the whole situation, it was a lot of quiet time with my own thoughts.


One thing I realized was how much of my identity and self-worth were tied to my job, and that I let this happen to myself, too. Pre-pandemic, I thrived on being ridiculously busy. I was always on the go. I always felt like “I had no time” to try and do things that I wanted to. 2020 was the year I was going to change that. I had grand plans: Traveling solo to Seoul in March, attending my cousin’s wedding in the US in May, working on my fitness, learning a new language, painting again, and more. I wrote all of these down because I was so ready to make it my year. Then we all know how that went.

It was around August of 2020 when I decided it was time to pick myself up and try to thrive again. “Baby steps,” I told myself. I didn’t want work to consume me because there are other important things in my life, too. I wasn’t going to allow myself back in that hole where all I did was to clock in long hours at the office to numb myself from what was happening. So I tried some of the hobbies I’ve always wanted to do. (Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t completely miserable, I loved losing myself in K-pop videos and tweets after work to de-stress, haha!) I figured I actually had more control over my time now since I don't have to worry about things like traffic or parking anymore. 

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So here it goes, the five hobbies I got into in the hopes of getting to know myself again:

1. Learning a new language: Korean

I’m a huge fan of K-culture in general. K-dramas and variety shows are my go-to de-stressors, and I’m also a multistan. I’ve always wanted to learn another language, but I wasn’t sure which one to pick. (Kasi nga feeling ko dati, lagi akong ~walang time~.) Two of my work friends told me about how they wanted to sign up for a basic Korean language class and that was it. It’s been almost a year since we started learning and I still get so excited for our weekly classes. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent or anything, but I get so kilig that I can read things in Hangul, understand some phrases on shows, and casually converse (and text!) with my friends in Korean. 10/10 would recommend learning a new language if you’re up for a new challenge! 


Tip: There are a lot of language schools that offer Zoom classes for affordable classes. You can search on Facebook and enroll in a class that suits your schedule. I noticed a lot of them offer schedules later in the evening or on weekends to accommodate people who have day jobs.

Korean language books
It's almost been a year since I started learning Korean. I look forward to my weekly classes. I enjoy the challenge of learning something new. Retty Contreras

2. Journaling

I’ve loved journaling since I was a child, and during the pandemic, I got hooked on it again. I watched a lot of YouTube videos on how other people decorated their journals, and off to Shopee I went to fill my cart with the cutest stickers and papers I could use. Journaling is so therapeutic. I would write down my feelings and talk about what went well and what didn’t daily. I love looking back on the entries and seeing my progress.

Journaling has always been therapeutic for me. Retty Contreras

I also got into digital journaling on my iPad. There’s this app called GoodNotes that lets you create beautiful spreads. I particularly love using the monthly view because I can add photos to remind me of good memories. If you want to start digital journaling, I highly recommend that you go on YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest for tutorials and inspiration.

Goodnotes Digital Journal
Something I also started to enjoy: Digital journaling! Retty Contreras

Something I learned about journaling is that you should remember that you’re doing it for yourself. A lot of people get pressured to create pretty layouts because of what we see on the internet that they end up creating spreads they think other people will like. Think of what will make you satisfied.

3. Gardening

Admittedly, I didn’t give in to the whole plantita hype immediately. I’ve always enjoyed looking at plants, and we have a lot of them at home because my mom is an OG plantita. When restrictions were eased, however, I found myself regularly going to QC Circle with mom to buy plants and supplies. And that’s when I, too, became a plant mom to many, many plants at home. I’ve read that taking care of plants has many mental health benefits, and while I agree that tending to them is one of my most relaxing daily activities, what I love the most about this plant obsession is the time I get to spend with mom as we bond over our Lavenders and Wandering Jews. Also, I’m pretty sure you haven’t felt real joy until you see a plant sprout new leaves! Amazing!

hanging plants
I placed lavenders and other plants outside my bedroom window. They make me look forward to waking up every morning, because I get to see if a new leaf sprouted. Retty Contreras

4. Working out

Working out for 20-30 minutes a day has completely changed my life. I look forward to doing fun walking exercises and calming yoga sessions, thanks to YouTube. (Get YT Premium, the most sulit thing!) I’m not the fittest person, but doing these workouts consistently surprises me at how much my body can do. I’ve had a complicated relationship with my body for as long as I can remember, but regularly working out (more than ever before) has taught me to love my body, and to say thank you for staying healthy and strong.

Working out
Working out regularly has also given me an excuse to buy cute workout gear, lol! Retty Contreras

5. Learning how to cook

When I was in third year high school, we had a cooking class in school, and it was honestly my favorite subject, haha! We learned how to make Filipino dishes as well as pizza from scratch—I thought it was so cool to be able to whip something up by yourself. Pre-pandemic, I rarely cooked, save for the occasional fried egg or pasta. But because of the lockdowns, I had to step up and learn how to create delicious food for the family. Enter: YouTube. You can literally learn anything on that platform. Even the dishes that seem so complicated are doable, thanks to the people who share their hacks and recipes. I even got to recreate dishes that remind us of our travels!

My specialty: Retty spaghetti! Retty Contreras

Cooking is exhausting, but also weirdly relaxing. Perhaps it's because you’re in control of something. You don’t like the taste? Adjust it. Made a mistake? Add something to fix it. Plus, nothing beats the joy of seeing my brothers and parents enjoy something I made.



If you’ll notice, these five hobbies don’t require me to be super dependent on the internet. And that’s a deliberate choice. It’s so easy to be lost online, but at the same time, it’s not always good for you. We often talk about how boundaries have been blurred because of the whole work from home setup, but what I’ve learned is that you have to set the boundaries yourself, too. You’re working from home, but you don’t live at work. You can control some things, and you should allow yourself to.

Also, if you, like me, used to always say you “don’t have time” for something, maybe it’s time to try again. Who knows? You might just find your next source of happiness

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