One of many decisions college students face daily is how to deal with free time. Picking your de-stressing poison can be just as stressful as the things you're trying to relax from. On the one hand, winding down can mean laying in bed and watching Netflix until the dreaded "Are you still watching?” message. Alternatively, some may try to use their free time efficiently, as if it were any other task.
I’ve often felt pressured to use my free time in this way — being “productive” has become a sort of trophy that I can show my friends for validation.
But what is productivity? Merriam-Webster defines it as “having the quality or power of producing especially in abundance.” I think it’s the abundance part that our generation gets particularly stuck on.
In my experience, this means trying to cram everything into a day: from scheduling fitness, crocheting, baking and homework just to end up doing none of the above. And with that come the negative feelings about being unproductive.
This tendency to be productive is visible in many aspects of our generation. From turning a crocheting hobby into a TikTok-featured business, or even something as simple as over-meditating, it’s no longer enough to just enjoy a hobby. We feel like we have to get something of value out of everything we do.
BBC recently published an article about how trying to be overly mindful can sometimes be detrimental and heighten anxiety. Mindfulness is usually known as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment. This could include meditating, breathing and thought exercises.
A recent study found that 25 percent of meditators experienced negative effects during the meditation. This included panic attacks and even dissociation, where individuals felt a disconnection from the present moment.
This is something important to keep in mind when choosing how to unwind. A meditative yoga session might be in order, but it is important to recognize when it can be overwhelming.
So what can we do to balance our free time?
Maybe we should start doing things for ourselves. Not for the sake of productivity, or for the sake of others. That crochet strawberry bucket hat looks just as great on your own head as it would on someone else’s. Free time and rest are about putting yourself first and listening to your own needs.
We should also be more forgiving with ourselves. If you decide to ignore homework and just lay in bed all day, that’s OK, as long as you are willing to accept the implications of that (such as having to pull an all-nighter later). If what your body tells you is that you need time to veg out, do so every once in a while without feeling guilty.
In the end, free time should be used to recharge — whatever that means for you. If a degree of productivity brings you joy, of course you should go ahead with that. However, it shouldn’t become a burden that keeps you from the much-needed rest any college student deserves.
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