When life gets stressful, many of us tend to dwell on whatever it is that's causing us stress rather than taking a break to enjoy our favorite hobby or a meal with friends, which can seem like a waste of time. However, a new study suggests that making time for leisure activities actually alleviates stress and helps us function better physically and psychologically.
In the study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, psychologist Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas and her colleagues asked 1,400 adults how often they engaged in a variety of different leisure activities, including eating with friends, communing with nature, playing sports, and spending quiet time alone. Then these adults were given surveys measuring their physical and psychological health.
The results showed that people who more frequently engaged in enjoyable leisure activities had lower blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index, and levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.
These people also reported stronger social networks, greater satisfaction with and engagement in their lives, and lower levels of depression. Plus, they tended to sleep better and exercise more consistently.
So next time you get invited out to eat with friends or go for a jog and you think your stressful life simply doesn't allow for it, remember that activities like those are much more important than we give them credit for. They may even help you deal with the stresses that life throws your way: The authors speculate that these "breather" activities may lead to "restoration [that] is typically marked by greater feelings of well-being, calm, and vigor."