How Perception of Leisure Time Affects Mental Health

leisure and stress

New studies led by researchers at The Ohio State University suggest that how someone views leisure activities has a lot to do with their mental health. This makes sense, since common methods to cope with anxiety center around allotting time for rest and relaxation. But what if you’re not someone who values time spent on fun or relaxation?

We’re taking a closer look at this new research and examining what it could mean for mental health and well-being. And we’re starting with an overall look at this new set of research.

Research Into How Leisure Affects Mental Health

Perception of Leisure Time Affects Mental Health

On August 21, 2021, the Journal of Experimental Psychology published a series of studies conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University and Harvard. Through varying lenses, these studies took in data on how individuals view leisure time. For example, in the first study, almost 200 college students were polled on their levels of personal satisfaction, depression, anxiety, and other related factors.

They were also asked how much they agreed with statements about leisure, like “Time spent on leisure activities is often wasted time.” In analyzing the results, researchers found that those who poorly valued leisure activities were less likely to enjoy their own relaxation time.

In fact, this was true about all times of leisure. This included solitary activities like exercise or meditating, group activities like spending time with friends, and even passive activities like watching TV. Moreover, those who poorly valued leisure seemed to report higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

This suggests that there is a correlation between valuing leisure time and mental well-being. And from a behavioral health perspective, this could inform some of the ways that people try to manage mental health conditions. For example, someone with an anxiety disorder might intentionally set out to find a leisure activity that feels meaningful to them to help manage their symptoms.

International Perceptions of Leisure and Mental Well-Being

Another study in this set clearly indicates that the connection between leisure time and mental health is not solely an American phenomenon. One study in this set of research polled those in the United States, France, and India. And while it’s true that French responders were more likely to highly value leisure time, those who did not value leisure time were still more likely to report higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression.


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Researchers who conducted these studies suggested that, regardless of nationality, the act of believing and internalizing the idea that leisure time is wasted led to individuals becoming less happy. And while mental health issues are rarely as easy to solve as a slight change in perspective, there is compelling evidence that reframing views on relaxation can help someone recover from a mental health condition.

Since the researchers were concerned that any type of leisure activity seemed to be unwelcome among less happy respondents, they set about to complete another study that would analyze how individuals responded to leisure in fun, harmless ways.

Negative Responses to Relaxation

Negative Responses to Relaxation

In another study of the set, college students were shown a funny cat video during a class lecture. To help guide some respondents to a more positive view, some of them were shown articles about how leisure can be an effective stress management tool. But still, among the respondents who didn’t highly value leisure time, watching the cat video was reported as unenjoyable.

This led to a discovery among the breakthrough; the issue wasn’t entirely that people simply hated leisure. Rather, the problem seemed to be that leisure didn’t feel useful or productive. While this is still a problem, it does indicate a potential solution.

For people who don’t see leisure time as valuable, it may be useful to reframe how they think of relaxation. Instead of seeing it as a waste of time, it might be more productive to treat leisure activities as small ways to achieve larger, long-term goals.

If reading feels like a waste of time, then treating reading as an opportunity to educate oneself could make it more appealing. If exercise seems pointless, then setting long-term health goals could give it more of a purpose. Whatever the activity, the trick is making it part of a larger goal that is important to the individual.

Restoring Mental Health in Georgetown, Ohio

Based on this new research from The Ohio State University, it’s clear that reframing how you view leisure can do a lot for your mental health. But sometimes, a mental health condition isn’t something you can handle on your own. For people who continue to struggle with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, professional psychiatric care can make a much larger difference.

And at Georgetown Behavioral Hospital, our goal is to help you turn your mental health around. That’s why we provide an inpatient mental health program, where you can take a break from daily stressors and focus solely on your mental well-being. And during your stay at our Ohio mental health center, we’ll provide world-class care, including:

  • Support from a well-rounded team of doctors, psychotherapists, counselors, nurses, and other highly trained support staff.
  • Dual diagnosis programming if substance abuse is part of your mental health struggle.
  • A welcoming space that fosters growth, healing, and peace of mind.
  • Discharge planning to set you up for success following mental health treatment.

If you are dealing with a mental health issue that goes beyond normal stress, then it’s time to get help. Call our friendly admissions specialists at 937-483-4933 or fill out our confidential contact form. Reframing how you view leisure can be a useful way to manage everyday anxiety, but for more serious mental health concerns, professional treatment offers a path forward.

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