What do you do at the end of the day when you're finished with work and finally have some time to yourself? How you spend your free time can have a big impact on your mental health. Hobbies can help you relax and ease pent-up stress caused by all that time in the office or in front of the computer.

But, interestingly, how you spend your free time can also impact your work performance.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield's Institute of Work Psychology in the U.K. found that pursuing hobbies can boost your confidence about how well you perform your job. But there's one caveat: Your hobby has to be significantly different from what you do from 9-to-5.

To study the connection between work and leisure activities, researchers recruited 129 people who worked and were actively involved in hobbies like rock climbing, musical theater and singing. They had them complete surveys to see how serious and committed they were to their hobbies and how demanding their jobs were. Then, each month for seven months, participants were asked how many hours they spent on their hobbies and how they rated their ability to perform at work. The results were published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Recharging batteries

Man stretching at his office desk What you do when you leave work helps recharge your body and your mind. (Photo: Viktoriia Hnatiuk/Shutterstock)

Researchers found that if people have hobbies similar to what they do at work and that they pursue in an intense way, their on-the-job confidence can suffer. It's likely because their work and leisure time have the same mental and physical demands, so they're always feeling drained. Consider a web designer who plays computer games or a personal trainer who goes running.

In contrast, people who have hobbies that are very different from their work are happier and healthier. This is also true of those who choose a similar hobby but only participate in a lighthearted way. Those playful pastimes act as a barrier between their professional and personal lives, giving them downtime to "recharge their batteries," the researchers say.

"Consider a scientist who is an avid rock climber. Since climbing is so far removed from their day-to-day work activities, they can still recover from the demands of their job and replenish their resources, despite investing a great deal of effort into honing their climbing skills," lead researcher Ciara Kelly, a lecturer in work psychology at the university, said in a statement.

"When we feel like we have the confidence to tackle challenges in our jobs, we are more likely to be able to build a sustainable career and remain healthy, productive, happy and employable over our lifetimes. It's important to consider how our leisure activities might play a role in that process."

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Your hobbies can make you better at work
Hobbies can boost your career confidence as long as they differ from what you do on the job.