Do you ever feel worried or unsure about what to do with your free time, especially on weekends? If so, you’re not alone. Many people these days deal with what we can call free-time anxiety. In our fast world, where everyone appears busy and productive, having nothing to do might make you feel guilty, anxious, or restless. These feelings can stop you from fully enjoying your free time. Not only that, but free-time anxiety can also affect your mental health negatively over time.
Why do we feel anxious in our free time?
Free-time anxiety usually occurs when a person feels anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed and does not know what to do in their free time. These feelings of anxiety can be triggered by various factors; a few of them are:
We live in a society and culture where working beyond office hours, working on holidays, etc. is considered ideal and is often glorified as well. Thus, being less productive or doing nothing, even if only for a few days, can lead to feelings of inadequacy. Having free time might also make you feel like you are missing out on some important tasks or experiences, leading to increased anxiety.
Perfectionism is when we set high expectations for ourselves. Thus, perfectionism can contribute to free-time anxiety by convincing us that we are doing something wrong if we are not being productive or working toward our goals.
Always having something to do or being engaged in something also means that we do not have much time to sit with our thoughts or feelings, but when our minds are not occupied, they can wander into anxious thoughts about the past or the future. Thus, free time can lead to uncertainty and overthinking. Overthinking can cause a lot of uncomfortable emotions, contributing to anxiety.
Every time we do something good or avoid something uncomfortable, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which triggers feelings of happiness and satisfaction. When we are working, it’s easy to get that release of dopamine by constantly doing something, but in free time, it’s harder for our brain to find a ‘reward’’ leading to uncomfortable feelings.
How to cope with free-time anxiety?
There are multiple ways in which one can cope with free-time anxiety. Some of them are:
Avoid Social Media
Social media might make us believe that other people around us are working hard and being productive. Thus, it can lead to a lot of comparisons, contributing to feelings of anxiety.
Srt Realistic Expectations
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Acknowledge that not every moment needs to be filled with activity, and it’s okay to take breaks for your well-being.
Structure Your Free Time
If not knowing what to do in your free time is the root cause of anxiety, it might be a good idea to plan your free time. Mindfully scheduling time for your hobbies, friends, and other interactions and creating a balanced schedule might help reduce feelings of anxiety.
Practice being kind to yourself. Recognize that everyone needs moments of relaxation. Consciously scheduling time to take a break is an important aspect of self-care.
Why do we need free time?
It is important to know that sometimes leisure time is as important as working or productivity. Mindfully taking breaks can help us avoid issues such as tiredness and burnout. Not only that, research has found that people who regard leisure as a waste of time have higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression as compared to those who value scheduling time for leisure activities. Thus, free time has been linked to better mental health.
Although being productive and working hard towards your goal might seem appealing, we need to acknowledge that all of us are humans who feel tired and need rest at the end of the day. Thus, it is key to mindfully take time off and prioritize self-care for a few days for overall improvement and mental well-being.
- Morris, N. (2019, January 23). How to cope if you suffer from “free-time paralysis.” Metro. https://metro.co.uk/2019/01/23/cope-suffer-free-time-paralysis-8381466/
- Pearson, N. (2019, November 11). What is free time anxiety and 10 ways to reduce it. This Messy Human Life. https://thismessyhumanlife.co.uk/what-is-free-time-anxiety-and-10-ways-to-reduce-it/
- Reducing Free Time Anxiety. (2023, August 3). Flow Psychology. https://flowpsychology.ie/reducing-free-time-anxiety-tips-and-strategies/
- Why Leisure Is Never a Waste of Time | Psychology Today. (n.d.). Retrieved January 5, 2024, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-fandom/202109/why-leisure-is-never-waste-time