How to Enjoy Downtime When You’re Stressed
Wading through the anxiety spiral soup of the pandemic, eager for something to give structure and purpose to the slowly normalizing way of life again, you’ll never guess what so many sourdough bakers and mask sewers did before you that is actually something incredibly helpful for your mental health —having a hobby.
Research suggests that having a hobby can lessen stress, improve brain function, and even improve heart health. Hobbies and extracurricular activities have a positive impact and prove to be of great benefit to children and adults alike. Engaging in activities we enjoy helps to decrease stress and increase our overall mood. It also helps our connectivity to others, which can have a positive impact on our self-worth and self-esteem.
This is also known as downtime, aka the time between our work, our family, our love life, friends, etc.
Even if you have other creative outlets, wanting to express yourself in a way that felt bigger and more present, with something that had the potential to one day be less solitary after the height of covid life, then you need to keep reading to understand what we mean by how to enjoy your downtime.
Hobbies are Vital to Your Physical and Emotional Health
Even with limited work and zero social engagements, giving yourself permission to devote ten minutes a day to practice can be difficult. If you pride yourself in being busy and are quick to reframe overworking as hustling, and admit that you’re a workaholic on purpose or not, you’re not alone.
Today, a 40-hour workweek feels mythical; many Americans work 50 or more hours a week, and many of us are expected to answer a text or email long after the office has closed. Factor in working from home—where there are way fewer boundaries between personal and professional activity—and it’s no wonder so many of us feel simultaneously exhausted and underperforming. When compared to our European counterparts, Americans place so much emphasis on careers and job status; many forget or do not prioritize having a healthy work-life balance. Several studies have shown that overworking can lead to health problems like poor sleep, depression, and diabetes—and it doesn’t even make employees more productive. In short, leisure time isn’t laziness—it’s vital to your physical and emotional health.
How to Make Space for Downtime
If you’re a workaholic, one way to make space for downtime is to treat it like any other important appointment. Some people might prefer to not schedule their hobbies because it makes hobbies seem like work, but it is actually the opposite! If you don’t schedule protected time for hobbies, you may implicitly put these activities off when you have deadlines to meet, for example, as hobbies are not viewed as ‘pressing’ activities. Scheduling them ensures that you respect your hobby time.
Unlearn Harmful Thought Patterns
Even once you commit to your ten minutes, however, it can be hard not to let your inner critic creep in. Perfectionists are aplenty and tend to be pretty hard on themselves, as a rule, so an hour of creative self-care can quickly devolve into berating yourself for not producing more, better, faster. And what’s the point of downtime if you’re spending it worrying or bullying yourself?
To unlearn harmful thought patterns, awareness is a great first step: Pay attention to your thoughts while you’re engaged in hobbies and try to catch and label judgmental thinking. It’s nice when we are ‘good at’ our hobbies, but that isn’t why we do them. We do them because they add something positive to our life. Reminding ourselves of that can also allow us to enjoy our hobbies a bit more.
If your inner critic fixates on what other people might think about your lack of expertise, try focusing on yourself and keeping the process private to help nurture your beginner’s mentality. You don’t even have to tell anyone what your hobbies are. If you have a creative hobby, people will sometimes want to see what you produce. That can add an evaluative component to something you are doing for fun. It’s okay to say no if people ask. It’s also okay to not even tell people what your hobbies are! They are for you, not for anyone else.
If you personally have a really hard time letting yourself enjoy anything for its own sake; practicing or learning your hobby can take a fair amount of mindfulness, but that practice can have major effects on the way that you treat yourself when you’re making anything, and the way that you take in enjoyment. Plus, for example, music is basically math, and thus this kind of hobby flexes a part of your brain you’ve avoided using since high school, you can have fewer expectations and enjoy the challenges of a completely new medium. That being said, there’s also something to be said for staying in your comfort zone (don’t we all need a little comfort right now?), and it’s also possible to adjust an established hobby or skillset.
Whether a person is extroverted and typically engaged in many hobbies and outings, or if a person is more introverted and made a concerted effort to try something new, the current status of our globe requires us to let go of what we think an activity should look like or feel like. Trying something new during quarantine requires us to prioritize flexibility. Mindfulness can be used as a way to explore new activities and adapt old favorites to life indoors, and conversely, that new hobbies can help our mindfulness practice: When we engage in hobbies we enjoy, our attention is usually ‘all in’ on what we are doing, which is the main aspect of practicing mindfulness. This has amazing benefits including increased focus, increased self-regulation, increased personal awareness, and decrease in stress and anxious feelings – which is beneficial for our mental health.
An Easy Place to Start
If you’re sold on downtime, but not sure where to start, try something offline: When our hobbies take place sitting in front of a screen, after we worked in front of a screen all day, we want to try to engage in movement somewhere in between. That can be a walk around the neighborhood, or taking a virtual workout class. You’re more likely to stick to something if it’s in line with a greater sense of purpose.
Choosing hobbies and leisure activities that are values consistent will be the most rewarding. It can also help when you are feeling frustrated with your hobbies or judgmental of your performance in leisure activities. You can remind yourself that you are engaged in the activity to pursue your values. Keeping time and space for your hobbies is moving you closer to your ideal life, even if you are feeling discouraged.
The Bottom Line
With a new hobby well underway, you can look forward to your mood feeling more stable overall, and how you’re noticeably more productive at work tasks and chores. Another bonus is how you can feel empowered to choose how to use your time for your own benefit. Whether it’s music, baking, crafting, or anything else, hobbies can be an inexpensive, low-pressure way to reclaim your time. Pursuing our own interests fosters independence and feelings of confidence, which can be really helpful for those of us that are over-invested in our personal relationships and can expand horizons and foster work-life balance for people who may have a tendency towards workaholism.
We hope this helps in any small or impactful way in navigating this bustling world we live in and reminding you that downtime is important to make time for. Botanica Day Spa is there for you if you need a little extra zen to your downtime.