Redefine Free Time

Redefine Free Time

“What you do in your free time is yours to decide. Ask yourself: what have you been missing from your routine? Start there.”

If you’re like me, and probably many other people, your free time is often spent staring down at a screen whether it be your phone, computer, or just watching Netflix. Don’t get me wrong – taking breaks throughout your day to watch your favorite shows or catch up with friends online are great ways to relax. But getting too much screen time, or even just sitting too long without breaks, still affects your health.

The pandemic has made a large impact on how long we’re staring at screens, rising to 19 hours per day on average, (People Staff, 2020). While screen time certainly has its positives, especially for those working from home, there are also negative effects it can have like damaged eyesight or headaches.

It’s not just about screen time though.

Remaining in a sitting posture for too long can affect your health in different ways (Wheeler, 2022).

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased chance of diabetes
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Spikes of anxiety
  • Back, shoulder and neck pain

What does healthier free time look like?

You don’t need to swear off social media or stop binging Grey’s Anatomy! Prioritizing activities that keep you active and refreshed will improve your well-being without having to completely give up screen time. Don’t focus on doing what you feel is expected of you, focus on taking care of yourself during your free time.

What you do in your free time is yours to decide. Ask yourself: what have you been missing from your routine? Start there. Find activities that help you achieve your personal life goals, whether that’s learning new programming languages or running marathons.

10 healthier ways to spend free time

Yoga and Meditation

Yoga is one of the most popular activities that takes care of both body and mind. If an hour-long yoga class is impossible during busy weeks, shorter at-home sessions will provide you the same perks (without the awkward small talk with your instructor). Meditation is another great way to de-stress from your workday. Even something so small as a 20-minute meditation break is enough to produce results when practiced daily.

Taking breaks throughout your day to stretch, even during free time is recommended to prevent issues like back pain and high blood pressure. One study found that even 30 minutes of stretching each week led to greater improvements than 30-minute walks. (Kingsland, 2021)

Exercising

You’ve heard this one before, probably for what feels like the billionth time. Unfortunately for those of us who’d rather keep playing Elden Ring after work, exercise is something we shouldn’t ignore. 

Engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercises is recommended by the department of health and human services. Mix it up with strength training or more adventurous activities like rock climbing, mountain biking or snowboarding! Exercise is like a swiss army knife of self-care, helping you maintain weight, insulin levels, mental health, cognitive skills, and much more.

You can still benefit from exercise when broken up into shorter activities throughout your day! A 10-minute exercise done 3 times a day goes a long way.

Power napping

One of my favorite free-time-fillers is completely removing the screen I’ve been staring at for hours and swapping it for a short 20-minute nap. Waking up feeling refreshed instead of the usual grog from longer naps gives you the energy to finish out your day. Shorter naps help many people get over sleep deprivation without relying on caffeine for a midday boost. 

On the other hand, longer naps have their own benefits as well. Getting around 30 minutes to an hour enhances decision-making skills while napping 1-2 hours improves your creative problem-solving. (Soong, 2011)

Be careful about playing on your phone right before you sleep. Screen time at night tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime and you’ll produce less melatonin, harming your sleep cycle.

Get some sleep!

Learning new skills

Discovering a new skill, or even refining an old skill, is a great way to feel productive during your free time. Don’t worry about completing something all at once. Learn at your own pace! 

Check out these online courses that can be completed gradually to better fit your schedule: 

  • Udemy – Creative and technical courses taught by certified experts.
  • Udacity – Workshops led by workers in the related discipline.
  • Skillshare – Tons of creative classes offered by other members.
  • LinkedIn Learning –  Professional courses related to your career.
  • W3Schools – Tutorials and exercises for web development.

Just remember to take those stretch breaks and watch how long you’re staring at screens!

Spending time with friends and family

Finding time to socialize with loved ones is a tough feat for a lot of us, especially fellow introverts. It’s not always the most physically demanding way to spend your time, but being around friends and family can help improve your mental and emotional health. Remember that taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body.

Encourage active hangouts if you need to consolidate activities to save time! You can still talk to loved ones while doing outdoor activities or even working out together at the gym.

Reading

This is a popular choice for many physicians for unwinding at home. Taking time to read regularly cuts down on stress, aids with getting sleep and improves brain connectivity among other great benefits. (Stanborough, 2019)

Since all you need is a book (or ebook), it’s easy to find time to read during work breaks or even at your favorite coffee shop if you need to mix things up.

Volunteering

Using your time to give back to others is a great way to meet new friends and focus on helping others instead of your daily stressors. Volunteering has many forms like assisting in soup kitchens, planting trees outside, or even fostering animals.

If you’re interested in volunteering but don’t know if it will fit in your already busy schedule, find local organizations that allow walk-in volunteers, even if it’s just for an hour each week. You can get the same good feeling from caring for others that you’re used to as a healthcare worker, just without the workplace stress.

Self-care

Being healthy means caring for your mental and emotional health in addition to your physical health. By caring for ourselves internally, we become more prepared and refreshed for our daily routines. There’s plenty of easy ways to practice self-care including getting some sunlight, cooking yourself a healthy meal or spending time with pets. Find an activity that helps you relax and de-stress. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple 15-minute walk around the block or a bubble bath, your body is telling you exactly what it needs, you just need to listen to it.

Care for yourself as you would care for a loved one!

Playing video games

I’m not kidding! I know we talked about how screen time can negatively impact your sleep cycle and overall health, but there are benefits to playing video games as long as you do it in moderation.

Research shows that playing video games for up to 30-minutes a day will boost your cognitive memory skills. Video games also positively affect your mental health too! For a lot of us, playing games online also gives us the chance to catch up with friends and family.

Try gaming with your patients! Studies show that video games can be significantly helpful for seniors in eldercare. Just keep in mind the amount of time you’re spending behind a screen.

Vacation! (or Staycation)

Now, this might cost more than free time but planning a vacation, even if it’s just for the weekend, has a powerful impact on our mental health. Make it a staycation by pampering yourself at home or taking an extended stay somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. Planning the vacation itself can be relaxing and gives you something to look forward to.

It’s easy to fall into a repeating pattern of work and home that causes you to ignore what your brain is asking for, especially for those working remotely. Putting some distance between yourself and your work is a great way to reset, recharge and come back with a fresh mindset. Have some fun, you deserve it. 

Learn how to travel safely with the pandemic in mind on our blog and check out some travel tips from PAI content manager Kayla Porter!

Let Theralytics free your time

Plenty of folks in healthcare are struggling to find free time to begin with. A healthy work-life balance is essential for avoiding burnout and taking care of our mental health. Our team built Theralytics with time-saving tools and user-friendly dashboards so therapists can get back to what they enjoy doing.

Check out all of the customized therapy tools you can use with Theralytics on our website!

If you’re just learning about our team at PAI, our community is full of others who experience the same pain points within healthcare. We’ve all known someone who could have or could currently benefit from modernized healthcare technology. Therapist or patient, you can rely on our group for resources or just to share your own stories.

Is there a healthy way you like to spend free time? Leave a comment, we want to hear from you!

 


References:

“Average U.S. Adult Will Spend Equivalent of 44 Years of Their Life Staring at Screens: Poll” People Staff, 03 June 2020, https://people.com/human-interest/average-us-adult-screens-study/

“Why Sitting Too Much Is Bad for Your Health,” Tyler Wheeler, MD, 25 January 2022, https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/ss/slideshow-sitting-health

“Is Stretching Better Than Walking for Reducing Blood Pressure?” James Kingsland, 29 January 2021, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/is-stretching-better-than-walking-for-reducing-blood-pressure

​​”Benefits of Exercise,” MedlinePlus, 30 September 2021, https://medlineplus.gov/benefitsofexercise.html

“The Secret (and Surprising) Power of Naps,” Jennifer Soong, 29 November 2011, https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/the-secret-and-surprising-power-of-naps

“How Screen Time May Cause Insomnia for Teens,” Danielle Pacheco, 13 April 2022, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep/screen-time-and-insomnia-for-teens

“Benefits of Reading Books: How It Can Positively Affect Your Life,” Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA, 15 October 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-reading-books

“Video games show potential in improving key aspects of memory in older adults,” National Institute of Aging, 24 September 2020, https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/video-games-show-potential-improving-key-aspects-memory-older-adults

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