I love free time.
But when those happy periods come along, can you guess what happens? That’s right! Anxiety jumps in and tears my rest and tranquility to shreds.
Once in a while comes that special day when the rest is real and not an hours-long battle with my anxious tendencies.
I’ve tried to figure out what it is about those times which keeps the anxiety at bay. Throughout them all are some common threads, and I want to spell them out here to help both you and me. If I’m not anxious when I do these things, it makes sense that I can do these things in order not to be anxious.
Here are the things I have discovered I must do:
1. Have a plan.
I need to have something planned to fill up my free time; I can’t just enter into it and then decide what to do. I’ve tried that countless times and have always ended up with complete failure.
And my plan can’t just be something loose and vague like “read a book.” I need to know what I will read, where I will read it, and what I will do while reading. Thus, the ideal plan would be something like “read Ivanhoe on the couch while drinking tea.”
It may seem ridiculous that I have to spell things out so much. However, I find that the more decisions I can prevent myself from having to make in the moment, the less anxious I get.
2. Make sure there is something absorbing on the list.
Maybe it’s writing an article. Maybe it’s finishing a book I’m really into. Maybe it’s working on a sewing project.
Whatever it is, it has to be something I can throw my whole self into. This keeps me from thinking too much, and not thinking too much means not getting anxious.
I find that not every single activity on the list has to be absorbing, but for the best success, most of them have to be.
3. Fill up the time.
This means I may need to have more on my list than I can possibly do, just in case.
However, the danger here is having too many things listed so that I become anxious in trying to choose one to do. This is why I like prioritizing my list. If I rank my activities from most desirable to least, then I have an agenda already planned out for me through which I can progress.
4. Account for chores.
If my plan doesn’t take them into consideration, I’ll get anxious thinking about what needs to be done. This means I have either to incorporate the chores into the list or to decide to ignore them altogether. Either works.
Dinner usually cannot be ignored, however, so I always have to have my dinner planned–and it has to be simple. If I know that I have to anticipate a lot of work doing something I don’t enjoy–cooking–then a blanket of anxiety slowly creeps in and covers everything as the day goes on.
5. Have a planned end time.
If I don’t know when my free time will be over, the uncertainty triggers anxiety, which spoils everything.
Since I usually don’t know when my period of freedom will conclude, I have to decide on an end time. I may get more time beyond that, and if all goes well, I won’t get less. But I need to make up my mind from the beginning that at x time, normal life resumes.
And that’s it.
Odd as it may seem, I have never tried applying these five points to a period of free time. In the past, their occurrence has just been mere chance. However, now that I have spelled out what has helped me, I am going to try to be proactive and use them the next time I get some moments to myself.
And now, you. Does anxiety spoil your free time? If so, what do you do? Do you have to create a plan like me, or do you have some other technique? Please share in the comments, because I want to know!