News & Articles

Reduce Stress with Unstructured Time

By Melissa Katcher, LMSW

Life is busy in today’s world. 

In addition to school and work, we have endless opportunities for activities – from sports, clubs, and classes to parties, family-fun-spots, special events, and more. Having access to so many wonderful opportunities is a blessing, and yet makes it very difficult to balance between doing things we like, and becoming “too busy.” 

Having scheduled activities is important. Structure helps us be productive, work toward personal goals, and keeps us motivated and accountable. But too much structure and not enough down time can have the opposite effect, and lead to stress, feelings of being overwhelmed, and burnout. It’s important to find the right balance for you. And that balance is going to look different for everyone.

Unstructured time is time set aside for creativity, exploration, rest, relaxation, enjoyment, daydreaming, or trying something new. It is much more about the mindset than the activity itself. It is the opposite of “productive.” It is low-pressure without an objective. Instead of having a task with a desired goal, it is a time for free exploration. If this is a new practice, it might be helpful to make a list to choose from, including ideas such as arts and crafts, legos, making up stories, taking a walk, spending time in nature, laying and looking at clouds, or literally stopping to smell the roses. And this is not just for kids. Adults benefit from unstructured time too.

Building unstructured time into your schedule has significant benefits to our mental health and overall well-being. Unstructured time allows room in our life for rest and relaxation, and leisure activities, which is often the first thing pushed aside when we are too busy. Relaxation and leisure are excellent tools for lowering overall stress, anxiety, and irritability. This time also provides a safe space to try out new ideas. This results in increased creativity, independence and confidence, and better problem-solving abilities. Without pressure to “get it right,” we are free to explore and come up with our own ideas, which builds our sense of self-efficacy. 

Unstructured time is an avenue that leads to lower stress, and increased creativity and problem-solving. If this is new for your family, the best strategy, as with most new things, is to start small and make it achievable. On busy days, try setting aside anywhere from 5-30 minutes. 

And again, your mindset is important. Five minutes spent by just letting go of everything on your to-do list and taking a moment to breathe or doing something like stepping outside or singing a song can be enough to make a difference. 

So on weekends or once a month, try to set aside an hour, a couple of hours, or if possible, a whole day. Keep the structures and routines that work for you, but take a look at your week and see where you can balance that with some time set aside to rest, get creative, and have fun.

If you feel like you aren’t sure how to best support your child, teen or young adult. Child and Family Solutions Center is here to help. Please call us at 248-851-5437 to get started with supportive services.