“Free Time” Anxiety Syndrome

Today’s post is about having “Free Time” anxiety. You know, down time. As in what do you like to do in your free time?

Anxiety can make it pretty hard to “chillax” as my daughter would say.

With my current job I often have a span of 2 or even 3 days off in between work days. This gives my mind plenty of time to wreak havoc on me. I don’t do well in general with free time, it is not something that comes naturally to me…

What I mean by that is I have to keep busy when I have free time, especially when I am feeling anxious. If I don’t, then the anxiety tends to snowball and my thinking gets all messed up and distorted and then pretty soon I’m having anxiety symptoms and anticipating the arrival of the next panic attack.

I’ve noticed that when I am really busy and don’t have time to think about anxiety, my days tend to go pretty smoothly.

But I can’t live my life at warp speed- it just doesn’t work that way. The busy times sort of ebb and flow through the week. I’m sure this is true with most people…

Weekends are especially challenging for me as an anxious person. To me, a weekend represents 2 full unscheduled days- the prospect of which can scare the living crap out of me.

At my last job, I volunteered to work every Sunday just for that reason. Everyone at work was relieved that there was some chick willing to fill an extra Sunday time slot, but I did it because I hated being home and anxious on Sundays.

As a full time nurse, you are usually required to work every other weekend. But I worked every other weekend plus every Sunday for over 2 years.

Its a few years since then and it’s really not conducive to being a wife and mom not to ever be home on the weekends, so I now bear my weekends like a good recovering anxious soldier.

I do feel guilty that I wasn’t around a lot during those 2 years, but I am not going to beat myself up about it today. No use in doing that.

The free time anxiety syndrome can happen on weekends or on any weekday that I’m not scheduled to work. It happened all the time when I was a full time stay at home mom. I remember even in my 20s on my days off I would have so much free floating anxiety that I would find any excuse to start drinking just to calm me the hell down.

The goal of having free time is to feel relaxed, but it is a paradox when you’re anxious.

Managing Free Time and Anxiety – The Right Way

It might sound counter-intuitive to have to plan out your free time, but I have found this is one of the best things I can do to be able to survive having a large span of free time and not succumb to anxious thoughts. Here is the basic plan of action:

1. Make a list of things to fill the free time.
2. Follow the list, one thing at a time
3. Find that as time passes you feel better

Finding free time fillers that make me feel good or at best don’t make me feel more agitated has been really nice. Its nice to find simple everyday things that make you happy and then actually do those things.

Awesome Time Fillers:

Light housework – like straightening up, laundry, vacuuming etc. I am a slob by nature but doing light housework really helps me with anxiety so I don’t mind doing it at all. Once in awhile I will try tackling a whole closet or a cabinet that has gotten out of hand… This can be quite a project lol ;).

Gardening – however you define it. I do not have a green thumb, never have. That being said I love taking care of plants and doing yard work. going out and raking leaves or pulling weeds for a half hour or three hours is something I really like.

Here is my most recent project. Trying to get some winter flowers blooming- these are 2 amaryllis and some paper whites in the middle. The one on the right might be dead, it’s from last year but I took care of it all year it and hoping it comes back to life.


Exercise – It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but getting out and working up a sweat fills the time and fills you up with feel good hormones in the process. And you get in better shape as a nice side benefit. I go the gym now, but for years I just took daily or twice daily walks outside.

Taking care of the dog. Looking after pets can be a full time project, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you. Buddy loves to walk and go out for runs and he would play fetch till the sun goes down if he could. So if I am twitching and feeling antsy, I can grab some tennis balls and take Buddy to the park.

Cooking. Since I noticed my connection between gluten and anxiety, I have been trying out new recipes for myself and also ones that taste like regular food so my family doesn’t know I’m slipping them something new & healthy.

Crafting. I just love to scour dollar stores and the clearance areas at Target and Michael’s and get me some craft on! Check out my big wreath I made for 5 bucks yesterday. I’m going to make Bob hang it out on the house later when he gets home if its not dark out already..

The other active things I do is keep a running list of things I can do when I have free time. Here’s part of my running free time list:

1.Find the perfect pale pink shade of nail polish, and find it on the cheap. (Love pale pink but I refuse to spend $8 or $12 for nail polish).
2.Finding pink ballet flats on clearance somewhere..(I always wanted ballet flats but never got a pair, so I’m always on the lookout)
3. Figure out how to bake gluten free Christmas cookies that taste awesome.
4. Find a really nice smelling rose scented lotion on clearance somewhere for my guest bathroom.
5. Find a really warm pair of slippers for me on clearance
6. Finding great smelling candles & incense on the cheap… ongoing..I do this all year round

You get the picture (that I’m cheap & filling up my free time!). These are all good spare time activities that have a reward at the end and make me feel good.

If I wake up in the morning and have a full day of free time and need something to do, I can go to my list to keep me busy and not fall prey to anxiety and the thinking trap.

I spent a lot of time about 2 years ago collecting little pieces of wood whenever I took Buddy for a walk. I know, sounds a little nutty right? Well I had an idea…Once I had just the right pieces, I glued them to a piece of scrap wood into a wood collage. It turned out so nice I hung it in my guest room. I made a few others and gave them away, it was fun.

I notice that I can take on and actually get enjoyment doing passive activity like reading a book or the paper or watching TV, or even taking a bubble bath, but only after I have accomplished some other “active” activities like those listed above.

My free time doesn’t have to be frantic, but it does have to have some sort of rhyme & reason to it. I need to be active in order to quell any anxious thoughts or free floating anxiety. As I keep checking off things my to do list, I tend to feel much better. And the time passes nicely. πŸ™‚

Have you tried making lists to help with your free time anxiety? What do you like to do in your free time?

I wish you peace,
Jill G.

PS. Since I started usingΒ The 60 Second Panic Solution, I have learned to LOVE my free time. Β I’ve used this program since 2014 and have had excellent results. It works like a charm! πŸ™‚ Do check it out here.

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18 Responses to “Free Time” Anxiety Syndrome

  1. maz says:

    Nice one jilly that’s me to the word

    Off to make relax list as we speak

    Maz x

  2. Well you can scratch gluten-free Christmas cookies off the to-do list because I just added a gluten-free cookie cookbook to my website only yesterday. Hope it saves you some time!

  3. Amanda says:

    Wow… I thought I was the only one like this in the world! I didn’t even know what to call it!! God this makes me feel better! I’m not alone πŸ™‚

  4. A says:

    Perfectly discribed. Great post.

  5. Pingback: Free Time Is Bad for the Wandering Mind | Your Mind Matters

  6. Kathleen says:

    My daughter faces this each weekend, school break and summer break. Thank you for pointing it out that others feel this way and how you do your best to combat it!

  7. Eve says:

    Thanks for talking about this. I was just googling “weekend anxiety” because it’s a recent condition I’ve been dealing with. I get really anxious and panicky without a purpose on the weekend!

    • JillG says:

      You’re welcome Eve. I do hope these tips help you and that you see that by keeping busy with little things you can “find a purpose.” Wishing you lots of luck this weekend!

  8. Jemma says:

    I have been struggling on the weekends for quite a while now and I was starting to think I was going mad, free time is supposed to be fun right? No, I dread weekends and instead of the impending doom of work come Monday morning, I cannot wait! So glad I have a name for what I have been experiencing, and thank you for the tips on how to manage it, I will definitely be putting this into practice! Thank you so much again!

  9. Mina says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. My friend and I discussed about our break anxiety yesterday.

  10. Jessica says:

    I am having a revelation by reading this, I too didn’t know what to call it and couldn’t explain it to anyone. Thank you for this!

  11. Stephanie says:

    I recently retired so I have lots of free time. My anxiety started giving bad scary intrusive thoughts, I’ve also noticed if I’m busy, it doesn’t bother me, but how do I stay busy…all the time

    • JillG says:

      Hi Stephanie,

      Congrats on your retirement. I don’t think anyone can stay busy all the time, but I get where you’re coming from. For me, when I have scary, intrusive thoughts (and as it happens, I’ve been having a lot lately), I turn to do The Work of Byron Katie. It helps me see that all my suffering comes from believing my stressful thoughts. The anxious mind twists reality, and as a result, our world becomes a living nightmare. In this post, I share a recent example of a stressful thought that I was having “Summer is scary.” I show how I use 4 simple questions from The Work to turn this thought around and find my inner peace: http://panicfreeme.com/7490/how-the-mind-twists-reality/
      My suggestion for you would be to use The Work on some of your scary, intrusive thoughts. It is really easy and helps you go back to a calm, serene state of mind. Which is our natural state, but anxiety covers it up.

      And here is something from Eckhart Tolle to help you today, it relates well to your question:


      A woman once asked, “How do I shed the years, or rather, decades of conditioning and distractions, sickness, relationships, work, in order to hear and feel the moments of stillness?”
      This is a very good question. It may seem to us that there is so much conditioning, so much of an ego within us that is deeply entrenched and intractable, that we may never learn to be still and live life in the present moment.

      It is true that the present moment is all you ever have of your life. Past and future and all of the distractions this woman mentioned are not about living. We will never discover our aliveness there. We will never be truly happy if we live our life from the conditioned ego and its narrow, dualistic, noisy, unreal reality.

      The good news is that you don’t need years and years to undo years and years of conditioning.

      You can change your life now, in an instant. Maybe not forever. You are certain to fall back into the conditioning again at some point. But you can always, in any moment, connect with stillness and presence. Each time you do this, you are de-conditioning the ego. As you do this practice more and more, throughout your life, you will be surprised to find that every little moment of presence changes you a little bit more.

      In this sense, the de-conditioning can take many years, but this does not mean that you won’t experience any benefit for many years. You will experience benefit every time you enter the stillness and choose to be present.

      Every little moment of presence is very valuable, very powerful and it adds to your inner transformation. If you continue the practice of presence with regularity, you will be surprised to see how much you have changed in a few months, in a year.

      So don’t be concerned that shifting your awareness from ego to presence is a difficult undertaking that will take years. It is not difficult. It is very simple. It is as simple as silence and surrender.

      Take a moment right now to close your eyes, take a few gentle deep breaths.

      Feel the air move in and out of your lungs, feel your legs and feet, feel your arms and hands, feel your face.

      Smile as you take in a larger breath.

      Hold that breath and feel it fill your body with oxygen.

      As you exhale, allow your body to relax and soften.

      Sit quietly for a moment, in stillness, breathing softly.

      Enjoy the present moment.

      Be here, fully with yourself, right now.

      Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.

      – Eckhart Tolle

      Good luck to you Stephanie, I wish you well! πŸ™‚

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