While I always recommend making time for relaxation, there’s one facet to having time on your hands that I must caution about.

All too often people with mental illness are left with idle time, myself included, which can lead to trouble. Spare time means more opportunity to worry and overanalyze things that happen. This is common among anxiety sufferers, but it can be even more of a problem for people in my situation, namely people who are living with schizophrenia.

Sometimes, when we have too much time on our hands, our minds go to places that are intense and scary. Troubling ideas can manifest themselves in any number of ways. Whether it’s paranoia or delusions, depression or hallucinations, our minds are all too susceptible to spiraling out of control. That’s why I think it’s important that we have something to do.

I’ve talked about creative flow before. You find your flow when you engage in a creative activity that’s so engrossing you lose track of time. Creative hobbies are important because they keep us occupied and focused on something other than our worries. It can be drawing, painting, woodcarving, writing, working at an easy job or really anything that allows you to flow.

For me, writing is where I find my flow. If not there, then in photography and walking or hiking. These seemingly nominal tasks are incredibly important for maintaining my stability and, while I don’t do them as often as I should, I’m well aware of what can happen when I have too much free time.

In the last couple of months, my schedule has been pretty clear and it’s led me to some compromising situations in regard to acting out about my delusions or paranoia. It’s also created a whirlpool in my mind where I feel so frustrated that I’m not making any headway that I can’t work, thereby reinforcing the fact that I can’t make any headway. It certainly gets to a point where having things to do can be a lifesaver.

We all need to feel like we’re making progress in our life endeavors. Too much idle time can make us go a little crazy — that’s true for anyone but especially for people with mental illness. If you’re in a situation where you feel like you aren’t making any progress, it might be a good idea to take small steps toward your goal. This can provide you with a base to build something bigger. Start the momentum forward on things that you’d like to do or things that you feel should be done. It’ll get you out of the cycle of worry.

Believe me, I’ve been there, and I’m all too familiar with the fact that doing nothing can lead to feeling stir-crazy. While relaxation is essential, it’s also important to feel accomplished. Just don’t overload yourself when you finally get going. It takes a delicate balance to keep from being overwhelmed.

Bored Man image via Shutterstock.