Feature Article: Time is on My Side
One day a few weeks ago I found myself at loose ends. I had caught up on my paperwork, and I couldn’t find a good book to read or a good TV show to watch. I had spent some time online earlier in the day, so I didn’t even want to turn on my computer. Like so many others, I have a very busy schedule, and I’m always longing for the moment when I have some free time. But now I felt uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do with myself.
My experience is not so rare. It’s common to experience feelings of anxiety, sadness, loneliness or boredom when your schedule is not completely filled up. Most people try to dismiss these negative emotions by overbooking their schedules, so then when they do have a free moment, they often don’t know what to do. And then those uncomfortable thoughts and emotions show up. It might be negative evaluations of yourself and your life, or negative comparisons of your life to the lives of “happier” people.
At times when you get caught up in these sorts of negative feelings, what can you do? Is the solution just to find something to occupy yourself? That day that I felt so antsy—my goal was to do something just a bit different from my everyday activities, something that would be fun and would also give me at least a modest sense of accomplishment.
But there was one very important step that I needed to take first. Instead of just avoiding negative thoughts, or simply distracting myself by engaging in some other activity, I needed to start with some coping techniques—like mindfulness, just being aware of the feelings. When we judge thoughts and emotions, they can loom much larger than they otherwise would. So the goal in being mindful is to just notice what you are thinking and feeling and accept that when you have some downtime, these thoughts can become very powerful. If you simply notice your thoughts and feelings and do not judge them and ruminate over them, you can then focus on your goals.
Once I had spent some time being aware of what I was feeling, I began to think about what I might do. If I could do just what I wanted, what might that be?
You might ask yourself the very same question. Start by thinking about activities that you enjoyed as a child or that have piqued your interest as an adult but you never pursued. I have attached a list here of ideas and links to websites, to get you started.
So what did I do on the day I found myself with nothing to do? I went online and got information for a museum I have driven by a million times and made plans to go. And I had a great time! If you try out a new activity or go to a new place, I’d love to hear about it.