Jo McCulty ’84, ’94 MA
Is ‘me time’ a waste of time? Far from it.
Two Ohio State professors explain how revaluing leisure can pay big benefits.
Ever want to curl up with a book or join the kids to solve that 500-piece puzzle — but instead of indulging, you feel obligated to knock out more work for the office or home? Does that way of thinking keep you from enjoying leisure time?
You are not alone. Many people see relaxation as unproductive.
But that’s not so, say Selin Malkoc and Rebecca Walker Reczek, marketing professors in Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business. The pair specialize in consumer behavior and well-being, and they recently examined the effects of viewing leisure activities as wasteful. That mindset hurts our mental health, their study found.
To explain how to reset your perspective, Malkoc and Reczek answered questions from alumni.
- How do I manage the feeling of guilt I get when I take time for myself? — Estelle Masoni Scott ’69
We often feel guilty about taking personal time because we feel like it takes away from more productive (and possibly easier to justify) activities. Put differently, we feel like “me time” is wasteful. Our research finds it is exactly this belief that robs leisure of its mental health benefits.
Reappraising a given leisure activity as a means to an end can restore its mental health benefits. For instance, instead of thinking about “me time” as a treat, you can think about it as time needed for self-care that is necessary for your mental health and not as optional or indulgent.
- Any tips on how we can learn to relax and enjoy downtime? — Jenna Sierer ’20 MSW
Lots of things that are inherently relaxing and enjoyable also have other benefits. Watching a historical drama on Netflix? You’re relaxing but also learning about history! Taking a child on an outing to a park or the beach? You’re at an enjoyable place but also enriching the child’s development! Sitting and having coffee or a drink with friends or your partner? You’re having fun but also keeping your social network strong!
Thinking about how each activity helps you achieve your long-term goals may take practice at first, but the more you do it, the more comfortable it will become.
- How has social media impacted perceptions of relaxation, especially with regard to comparing yourself to what others are doing? — Jennifer Braun Ambos ’92
We asked a group of undergraduates when they feel leisure is wasteful. We were somewhat surprised to see that only 20% said they feel leisure is wasteful when they know other people are working. In contrast, 51% said they feel leisure is wasteful when they have a goal they are working toward. Sixty-four percent of the students in our sample said leisure feels wasteful when they should be working.
What social media might do is show people not just that others are working but that they are making progress toward their goals. If you see someone on social media hyper-focused on productivity and bragging about what they have accomplished, this might heighten the sense that you, too, should be focusing on your goals and actively working toward accomplishing them.
- Do people who prioritize leisure time have better mental health? — Richard Seaman ’90
We found that people who believe leisure is wasteful generally report less happiness, more depression and more clinical stress and anxiety. These relationships held true for people in the United States, India and France. Here and in India, this belief also correlated with more anxiety and stress across a variety of different domains, including work, family and financial matters.
- For those who have a young family, do you have suggestions on ways to structure the days to ensure “me time” fits in? — Molly Myers Richard ’99
Your question really resonates with us. [Both women are working moms. Reczek’s children are 6, 4 and 2, and Malkoc’s are 10 and 7.]
In some seasons of life, it is definitely harder to have autonomy over our time. Little ones have a way of inserting themselves into our lives in unexpected ways. The best advice we can give is to take advantage of any available time you find. We know from previous research that people tend to put off enjoyable activities because they think responsibilities should be out of the way before they can enjoy leisure. But our responsibilities never end. We only rob ourselves of life’s small pleasures when we attempt to create the perfect time for “me time.”
Our suggestion is twofold: Be mindful of any amount of unaccounted time you have and have premade “me time” plans, even if it’s something as simple as taking a few minutes to call a friend or watch a TV show.
About the author
Ross Bishoff is a writer in the Office of Marketing and Communications. He has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor in Gannett Newspapers and Freedom Communications. As a freelance writer, he wrote for national magazines as well as Ohio-based newspapers and radio station websites.