Weekends can feel confusing when all the hustle and bustle of the weekdays still haunt us on the two days we should be using to recover. Deciding what to do then becomes an overwhelming process that has us curating a killer to-do list to get our lives together before Monday. Soon after, however, when we finally reach the execution stage and enter the hard-achieved state of flow, the clock has us snapping back to reality as we realise we have to wake up for work in less than 13 hours. To still commit to getting at least some things done, we’re left with only two options: compromise our 8 hours of sleep or wish for superpowers. Meanwhile, it also hits us that we haven’t been able to properly recharge for the new week. Consequently, we end up staring at the ceiling, trying to battle the guilt of having neither been productive nor taken an actual break until it’s time to sleep.
If this sounds familiar to you, here’s a fresh perspective: Work-life balance is great. Tending to the “life” aspect can be tricky, though, when we have so many interests we want to educate ourselves about, family and friends to nurture our connections with, errands to run for the house, a gym to hit to stay fit, activities that we’re excited to be a part of, and our mental well-being to maintain. While there’s often room to manage most of that during regular weekdays before or after work, the weekends represent a golden opportunity to catch up on everything we might have missed.
But here’s the thing: achieving proper work-life balance depends largely on our mental health. Without nourishing the latter, we set ourselves up for burnout, reduced productivity, and eventually disrupted balance. Over time, this slows us down both at work and beyond, leaving us with many things to do but not enough energy to tend to any of them. It is then that weekends become confusing and overwhelming because, deep down, we hope they’re the key to turning this around and catching up with our lives.
The good news is, they might be, but only if you consistently use them wisely – and most of the time, using them wisely implies nothing but taking the time to rejuvenate your mental health, which lies at the core of maintaining balance, keeping up with our hectic schedules, and taking effective steps towards our most important goals.
If you’re looking for ideas on how to do this, we have you covered with eight therapeutic ways to spend your weekend that will give it back its long-lost flavour:
Make sleep a priority
The connection between sleep and mental health is quite evident. Studies show that sleep deficiency changes activity in some parts of the brain and causes trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling our emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. It has also been linked to an increased risk of depression and other mental health problems.
On the other hand, good sleep helps us think more clearly, have quicker reflexes, and focus better. It also enables us to cope with stress in healthier ways and generally manage our emotions more effectively.
Because frantic weekdays are not uncommon, and stacked-up responsibilities often leave us no time to get proper rest during the week, our weekends should be reserved for paying this debt to ensure that we remain in our best shape mentally.
Reflect with gratitude
Taking some time to reflect upon your week with its good and bad and actively taking note of the things you’re grateful for – no matter how small – can instantly put you in a better state of mind. Do not underestimate the impact of genuine feelings of thankfulness for kind gestures from strangers, a happy sight of a child playing, a fulfilling conversation with a loved one, the time to rest, a satisfying meal, or anything that you wholeheartedly perceive as a blessing and how much they can improve your mood.
If lists work for you, you can write these things down. If they don’t, you can take a few minutes to ponder some of the good stuff before you wake up or before going to bed.
As you reflect, try setting your intentions for the upcoming week. It will help you clear your mind and only pay attention to what really matters to you.
Connect with your loved ones
If you haven’t watched the TED talk “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” yet, please do yourself a favour and check it out. It explains the findings of an extended study on happiness and how our relationships and how happy we are in them strongly influence our mental and physical health.
That said, it is important to acknowledge that tending to your precious relationships is a form of self-care, too. Catching up with a loved one over coffee, calling your cousin who lives overseas, or having dinner with your close friends on a cosy Saturday is sometimes all you need to unwind.
Practise cliché self-care
Yes, you read that right. Sure, true self-care isn’t just bubble baths and hair masks, but I can guarantee you that these things often work, as well.
If your initial intention is to rejuvenate your mental health, that bubble bath will likely feel different. The hair mask, too. It will promote the sense of having done something for yourself, and, more importantly, it will feel good.
So, whatever you thought of when you read “cliché self-care”, do make time for it on your next weekend. The results will speak for themselves.
Engage in physical activity
Being active releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good, help boost your self-esteem, increase your focus, and enhance the quality of your sleep. Not bad for something we can do for free most of the time.
Physical activity can be anything of your choice: attending a dance class or a yoga session, hitting the gym, taking a walk around your block, or doing jumping jacks at home. It is a solid investment in your brain health and cognitive function that helps you stabilise your mood and perform better throughout the week.
Social media predominantly affects our expectations for ourselves and our lives. While it can be a source of inspiration to tune in to people’s updates, watch their progress in life, and see how they spend their weekends, too much of a good thing can sometimes leave us with lingering doubts about our own journey based on invalid comparisons.
To avoid this, taking a break from time to time is absolutely necessary. Breaks like these can be an opportunity to reassess your progress apart from comparisons and set goals for yourself based on your values and purpose. They are also an excellent chance to unplug and recharge as you step back from potential information overload. The clarity of mind you are left with after such breaks is priceless.
Do one thing that brings you joy
Eat your favourite meal. Watch a film that’s been on your list for a while. Journal if it helps you be at peace. Go on a one-day trip to a city you’ve always wanted to visit. The ideas are endless, and they all depend on you and your own preferences.
What’s important here is to be intentional about whatever you decide to do and fully aware that you’re doing it for your own mental well-being. This guarantees a lasting effect on your mood overall.
Immerse yourself in nature
Do not underestimate the magic of green landscapes, walks by the sea, a picnic by the river, or watching the birds chirping behind your window. “Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile”, according to an article by Mental Health Foundation.
Connecting with nature is a great way to reclaim your peace of mind and decompress when needed. After a long, hectic week, it is one of the best things to resort to if you want to chill for a while. Try it for yourself.
Before this article comes to an end, and after having left you with some ideas about what you can do for your mental health on weekends and why it’s so essential to prioritise it, I’d like to highlight that the primary purpose of these recommendations is to help you slow down after all the running you do throughout the week. Hence, they will be most effective only if you mindfully put them into practice and less so if, in your head, you’re still in that state of running as you do.
Practice makes perfect, though, so it is completely fine to give yourself the time to employ mindfulness week by week until you master the art of being in the here and now and of staying in the moment to really make the most out of it.
Aya Ellabody is a freelance mental health and self-development copywriter and content writer seeking to help readers achieve mental stability and lead more fulfilling lives.