As the summer approaches, a familiar nervous feeling creeps into my brain. I suffer from free time induced anxiety, and while this might sound unfathomably ridiculous, it’s more common than you think.
The United States’ obsession with productivity stems from our belief in The American Dream. This “dream” is based upon the ideal that every American citizen has an equal opportunity to be successful and prosperous through hard work, assiduousness and ingenuity. This belief system has been criticized for being unrealistic, as well as outdated and irrelevant to modern society. However, as much as we reject The American Dream, aspects of it have stuck with us, specifically the preoccupation with efficiency and constant work.
The 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study surveyed 1,087 employed and unemployed professionals and found that 45% of employees feel that they do not have enough time during the week to do personal activities, and one in five of those employees said they spent over 20 hours per week working outside of the office. Over half of these workers said their employers expected them to be available and reachable outside of the office at all times.
It isn’t just professionals who have a lack of free time. American mothers were found to have only 36 minutes of free time away from their children per day, while mothers in Scandinavian countries have 1 1/2 hours of free time on average. As American college students, we are also dramatically affected by a lack of free time. Many of us take 15 credit hours or more per semester, all while working a part-time job, doing an internship, maintaining a high GPA and attempting to participate in extracurricular activities. As Americans, our sense of worth often seems to be tied up in how productive we are.
When you’re used to your days being filled to the brim, it’s easy to get anxious when you suddenly have ample hours of free time. I often feel guilty that I’m not being productive and try to make work for myself, even though I’ve just spent the last four months lusting after free time.
We are taught that productivity and being busy will make us happy, but is this true? Are we really happy, or are we distracting ourselves from real feelings with productivity? Whether you are happy or not depends on how you feel at the end of the day when all your tasks are done and you have a moment to reflect.
This has been an extremely busy school year for me, and most of the time, I was just burying myself in work to avoid emotions and accepting productivity as happiness. This overload of work certainly took a toll on me emotionally and physically, so I should feel grateful that I can take the summer off, instead of feeling guilty. Productivity can make you happier by giving you a sense of accomplishment, but there has to be a stopping point for everything. If you feel burdened or trapped by being busy, it’s no longer a positive thing.
Most people in the U.S. are extremely busy and rarely get to enjoy free time, so we should consider it something to appreciate, not to dread. When you work hard, you deserve time off. Free time does not have to equal lazy; you can be productive doing things you enjoy, like writing, reading, exercising, travelling, cooking or visiting friends. So for those who fear free time, make it your goal this summer to shut that fear down and embrace your time off.