Mind your mind: How to make having too much free time constructive

On the one hand, pursuing busy-ness and overexerting ourselves to the point of having no leisure time can be harmful to our health — on the other, however, research shows that having too much spare time can be just as harmful as not having enough of it.

Although having too much free time remains a rare commodity in the lives of many students, the key is finding the perfect balance between the two.

So what’s up with having too much free time?

Well, the danger is that you can end up in bed at home with nothing to do. Having too much free time comes with a string of disadvantages such as boredom, procrastination, anxiety and even depression. It can lead to bad habit making, lack of focus as well as discipline.

The good news is that having free time can serve as the perfect opportunity to learn new skills, take on a new hobby or strengthen your relationships with the people close to you.

One strategy I’ve found useful in the past consists of scheduling activities to do each day for a set period of time. What’s important here is choosing activities that will not only activate you, but will also give you the pleasure you deserve. Another thing that matters is the type and quality of activities you choose. Here, I suggest activities that help you get out of your own head, especially since when inactive, our brains tend to review negative things over and over again. Scheduling activities can not only help us maintain good physical and mental health, but can also add meaning to our lives.

There are different types of activities — some of them are purely pleasurable as well as self-soothing, while others help us live our values or accomplish a task or goal.  

Examples of activities:

  • Do yoga
  • Go to a museum
  • Clean your home
  • Make a to-do list
  • Read a book
  • Write a mission statement for your life
  • Watch TV
  • Cook a meal
  • Arts and crafts
  • Meditation
  • Take a long drive
  • Walk the dog
  • Do volunteer work
  • Send a thank-you note to someone
  • Hangout with your friends
  • Say prayers for the well-being of others
  • Get a massage
  • Call someone from your support system
  • Listen to classical music/books on tape

So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know what to do with yourself, try something new or one of the activities listed above. When taking time off, it’s way too easy to end up in your pyjamas all day. So remember to stay busy... but not too busy!

This article was inspired by the therapy workbooks Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger, PhD and Christine A. Padesky, PhD, and Scott E. Spradlin’s Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life.