Enjoying a casual stroll or a late-night movie in your free time can have positive health benefits. Leisure activities contribute to lower blood pressure, a more robust social life and a lower risk of depression.
Yet, when many people get the chance to kick back and relax, they can’t appreciate it. Workday stressors can linger at home, leaving us feeling pressure to be productive in our time off. According to researchers from Ohio State University, this thinking can be detrimental to mental health.
A series of studies showed that people with negative views on leisure experience higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Failing to relish recreation time reduces gratification from activities and reduces happiness.
In one study, college students engaged in mundane work were asked to watch a funny cat video. Several participants failed to enjoy the break, despite there being no way to use the time more productively. Even when the students read about the benefits of recess in advance, taking it still didn’t make them happy.
People who believe relaxation is wasteful aren’t easily swayed. They often prefer activities that offer the illusion, at least, of ticking a box on their to-do list. One online survey showed that parents with negative views on leisure found more fulfillment in trick-or-treating with their kids than going to a Halloween party for adults.
This isn’t to say that putting off chores to binge-watch Netflix is healthy. Leisure shouldn’t get in the way of priorities, but it also shouldn’t induce guilt.
Framing leisure as part of a long-term goal of a productive life can help alleviate stress. So, when you have a free moment, go ahead — put your feet up and savor it.