In the past, one of my favorite things to do was simply wander around my city with no plans. But these days, whenever I have free time, I often find myself at a frantic loss for what to do. It's as if I don't totally know how to relax or enjoy free time without filling it with other tasks. In my defense, knowing how much free time you should have to maintain basic soundness of mind is a question that doesn't exactly have the most obvious answer, especially when you lead a really busy lifestyle (as many people do). However, according to experts, carving out free time for yourself every day is something you absolutely need to do for your well-being.
But before I dive into this topic, it's important to clarify what free time actually is. I mean, really, how would you define "free time"? Does it mean lying down on your couch and spacing out for a while, or going to a yoga class, or what?
Well, it's up for interpretation, to an extent. According to counselor and relationship expert David Bennett, generally speaking, it's best to look at your free time as time that you control, rather than time that's dictated by someone else, like your manager at work, or even your parents or other family members.
As for how much free time you should give yourself each day, Bennett says it's a bit difficult to determine, since it definitely depends on the person and their unique lifestyle. But, he tells Elite Daily in an email, you should probably give yourself more free time than you think you actually need; in other words, he says there's a good chance you're underestimating how much downtime is best for your well-being.
"Free time is extremely important," Bennett tells me. "And if you feel as if most of your life is under the control of another person or organization, it might be something you want to assess."
Of course, most people have plenty of obligations to uphold on a daily basis, meaning there's always time in the day that's not really your own, so to speak. But Jamie Gruman, Ph.D., a psychologist, professor, and founding chair of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, says it really is necessary to carve out this time for yourself. "One of the basic human needs we have is the need for autonomy," he tells Elite Daily in an email, "which involves the need for us to feel that our actions are freely chosen."
According to Dr. Gruman, free time satisfies that need for autonomy, "and because it is a need, it must be satisfied if we are to flourish as individuals," he explains. "That said, even short amounts of leisure time can satisfy this need if the time is used effectively."
For example, Gruman says, even just five minutes of meditation can help you recharge, or a 10-minute walk in the park, or 15 minutes of getting lost in a good book. All in all, though, he says, it's sort of a trial and error thing — you have to pay attention to how much free time feels necessary for your brain and body to feel refreshed.
Bennett suggests a variety of ways to fit in that quality "me" time: volunteering, hanging out with friends, meditating, exercising, seeing a significant other, or losing yourself in a good movie or book. Sometimes, he adds, free time might just mean catching up on sleep — to which I say, yes, please.
Overall, Bennett and Gruman say you should be intentional about your free time. In other words, you want to make sure that what you do with your free time is actually something that makes you feel free, that promotes relaxation and a sense of letting go.
If it feels difficult for you to find free time in your current schedule, Bennett's suggestion is simple: make some free time. "I suggest scheduling out free time, at least to a degree, so you’ll be more likely to do the things you want to do, instead of either letting work encroach on your time, or simply drifting into mindless activities," he explains.
And remember, as Dr. Gruman points out, it isn’t selfish to take time to relax and recharge. It is a very necessary part of living a balanced life that is in "harmony with the ebbs and flows of our natural processes," he explains.
"Human beings are not machines," he says. "We’re not designed to operate 24/7 in an always-on fashion. Relaxation shouldn’t be a luxury. It is a vital ingredient in a healthy, full, rich, prosperous life."