Take it easy in your free time

More and more people feel burned out these day. Not only at work, but also increasingly during their free time. It doesn’t have to be this way. Read on to find out how to beat recreational stress.

Text: Robert Wildi; photo: Unsplash

The term “recreational stress” probably sounds like an oxymoron. You’d think that people should be able to do what they want in their free time. But is this really the case? Dr Annalisa Stefanelli, psychologist and certified life coach based in Basel, confirms this phenomenon: “Recreational stress is on the rise and can be seen across all generations – among children, young adults and the elderly alike.”

Recreational stress is similar to all other kinds of stress. It’s always a question of an “imbalance between external demands or the goals we set ourselves and our ability to meet them,” says Stefanelli. A busy schedule doesn’t automatically cause stress. In every case, our individual assessment and how we interpret the situation is key: “Is this right for me or not? Am I satisfied with the way in which I fill my free time? Or am I being pushed to my limits and feeling overwhelmed?”

Eustress and distress: when does stress become too much to bear?

Stress is not always a bad thing. Psychologists distinguish between eustress and distress. Eustress results from challenging but achievable and enjoyable or rewarding tasks, such as a sporting achievement or a public appearance. It has a positive effect, because it creates a sense of accomplishment, capability and achievement. Distress, on the other hand, is perceived as a threat, burden and an excessive demand when our personal resources are not sufficient, the schedule is too tight and the pressure is too great.

“Boredom stimulates creativity”
Annalisa Stefanelli, psychologist and certified life coach

FOMO – fear of missing out

Stefanelli explains there are many reasons for recreational stress. One is the fact that we are constantly networked. “When work and recreation mix, it’s hard to see where work stops and leisure time starts. This feeling is exacerbated by working from home.” Added to this is the fear of missing out and the social pressure to fill our leisure time with “meaningful” activities. “It’s almost frowned upon to do nothing in your free time.” Plus, some people feel left out if they’ve just stayed home and relaxed all weekend and have nothing exciting to talk about at work.

Or some people fill their children’s schedule with language, music, sport and development programmes to keep them on their toes. However, says Annalisa Stefanelli, it’s important to remember that “boredom is very important for a child’s development. It stimulates creativity, and encourages children to find their own solutions and develop their own ideas.”

Does the KonMari method also help with recreational stress?

In short: yes! You can declutter your free time in the same way that best-selling Japanese author Marie Kondo tidies houses and apartments. The key question to ask yourself using this method is: Does it make me happy to hold a particular object in my hand? If not: get rid it! In relation to your free time, a similar question would be: Does this activity meet my needs? Is it fun or enjoyable? Is it satisfying? If not, you should have the courage to give it up.

How to combat recreational stress

  • Learn to express yourself clearly and say “no” if necessary.
  • Stop any activities that trigger negative stress.
  • Take time for yourself. Integrate periods of rest and doing nothing into your routine.
  • Incorporate “flow moments” into your routine where you immerse yourself in a task and lose track of time, regardless of what it is: walking, painting, meditating, listening to music.
  • To prevent the build up of stress, it’s a good idea to talk to a psychologist or life coach. People shouldn’t be afraid of doing so. They should be able to see a life coach with the same ease with which they go to the dental hygienist or hairdresser, says Stefanelli: “Take action sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until you’re at your wits end.”