One of the ways Vancouver Clinic therapists help patients with anxiety and depression is to encourage them to reserve time for pleasant activities. The advice is based on a simple idea: The more we do what we enjoy in life, the better we feel. It’s also backed by science. Deliberately choosing pleasant activities helps people improve their mental and emotional health.
The wonderful thing about this strategy is that it works for nearly everyone. A clinical diagnosis is not required to enjoy the mental health benefits of doing more of the things you love. Incorporating pleasant activities can help anyone better manage everyday stressors.
Tradeoffs: How most people deal with stress
As people, we tend to deal with stress in a predictable way. We pull back from the things we want to do in order to make time for the things we feel obligated to do. It’s simple math: There are only so many hours in a day, so we make tradeoffs. For example, we may skip a workout to visit a sick friend. We may pass on a regular get-together with friends to meet a work deadline. We may attend a child’s school event, sacrificing reading time.
Trading one activity for another is an excellent coping strategy in the short term. It helps us attend to the numerous tasks and events on our plates. However, when this persists for more than three to four weeks, the constant activity swap takes a toll on our mental health. We begin to feel overwhelmed and start noticing the lack of time and freedom to do the things we want to do.
Then, when we finally get a free moment, we tend to engage in quick, passive, pleasant activities to decompress. We scroll through social media, play video games, or watch TV. We indulge in overeating or drinking and sleep late. While these activities are enjoyable, they only allow us to disengage from stress. They do not help us recuperate or recover from the effects of stress.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and turning to these types of passive entertainment, you may benefit from trading passive moments for mentally or physically active ones. Taking 5–15 minutes to enjoy an activity that requires a higher level of engagement can improve your overall mental and emotional health.
Activity: The best way to deal with stress
To incorporate short rejuvenating activities into your day, start by identifying something you have been wanting to do but have not gotten around to doing it. Next, develop a plan for getting it done. This activity can be pleasant or productive, but the emphasis should be on doing something you want to do. Check out this Behavior Activation list for ideas or consider the options below:
- Plan a meal or event
- Perform mindfulness or breathing exercises
- Do a puzzle
- Work on a craft project
- Clean an area in your house
- Walk or exercise
- Call a friend
- Play with a pet
All of these options feed the brain’s well-being. Planning activities taps into the positive emotions of want, desire, and interest. Physical movement—including small activities that require hand-eye coordination—requires a satisfying mind-body connection. Creating or experiencing something new supports feelings of independence and competency. Finishing tasks is rewarding. Finally, controlling your time and using it on something that matters feels good!
The next time you have 5–15 minutes, try using it on a pleasant activity other than looking at your phone. It’s a small amount of time that can have a big mental health payoff.
Daphne Morrison believes that the job of a care manager is to help patients resolve problems faster than they could alone so that they can get more enjoyment out of life. She enjoys introducing patients to healthy solutions and supporting them as they gain new skills that allow them to feel and live better.