The Positive Impact of Leisure Time as Part of Long Term Recovery

Working on your mental health with life balance and structure can greatly benefit your recovery. Making time for leisure activities will benefit you in the long-run.
Fostering positive mental health is imperative for protecting against mental illness and subsequent substance use disorders (SUDs). Leisure activities, such as exercise and reading, create mental health benefits through providing time structure. An article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information finds that for unemployed individuals, leisure activities positively increase their perceptions of spending their time effectively. Finding balance and structure is also essential for those in early recovery, as time for competing priorities must be managed effectively. Making time for leisure, as well as career and/or school, can be a powerful and positive force in the lives of those building new lives in recovery.

How Does a Lack of Structure Affect Someone?

A prospective study is one that starts in the present and continues. One such study of 300 men, published by NCBI, assessed the impact of stress on health, individuals who became unemployed during the study were compared with an equal number of participants of the same age and race who continued working. The study collected health and psychological data after unemployment and found the following symptoms significantly greater for the unemployed group than the employed group:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Somatization, or the development of multiple and recurring medical symptoms with no apparent cause 

Furthermore, the unemployed men took more medications, visited their physicians more often, and spent more sick days in bed than employed individuals. More sick days equals fewer opportunities to gain employment or create structure, the lack of which perpetuates those health issues, and a cycle that is difficult to break begins. Mental health and substance use disorders have the potential to not only drain energy and create physical struggles, and they often drain the joy out of activities that were formerly fulfilling. 

This is important to consider for those in recovery as some, whether by choice or circumstance, will initially find themselves without work after getting sober. During the transitional time until the balance a job creates is restored, a lack of time structure can increase the risk of mental health challenges. Leisure activities can help create a sense of routine and purpose and should be considered as a part of this structure during times of unemployment. Even after returning to the workforce, leisure activities can help foster mental well being and balance, two important pieces of a recovery plan.


Leisure Activities Positively Impact Mental Health

Leisure activities include participation in hobbies during free time, which are not work-oriented and do not involve sleeping or housework. In other words, they are what we do for fun and to unwind. Examples of leisure activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Playing team sports like soccer or basketball
  • Entertainment, such as seeing movies, discovering new music,  or attending local cultural events 
  • One man sports such as golfing or bowling
  • Activities that get you out in nature like horseback riding, hiking or walking 
  • Seasonal activities such as swimming or paddleboarding in the summer and skiing or snowboarding in winter.
  • Learning or improving a new skill such as cooking, art, or musical instrument
  • Things that exercise your mind like reading, puzzles, strategy games


The current study found that for those unemployed individuals, spending time on leisure activities positively impacted their mental health in a positive way. These activities provide a sense of daily structure for those individuals not engaging in a work schedule and therefore increase their perception of how they spend their time. Spending time leisurely learning or practicing skills is beneficial in both practice and awareness.

A benefit of the different leisure activities suggested above that is that each of them engages either the body, the mind, or both. For those who are in between jobs or taking a break in order to focus on recovery, finding leisure activities that are stimulating can help with stability and focus. Not only can leisure activities provide a time structure, they can also keep intention drawn to self-improvement and are a form of self-care. Many of those in early recovery have spent many years struggling with substance use disorder symptoms, during which caring for body and mind fell from the list of priorities. Investing time in leisure activities not only fosters an environment of structure and framework as priorities are added to daily life, they additionally aid in the growth of a positive self-image.


Trying to Improve Your Life?

Mental illness and substance use disorders often co-occur and must be treated individually to better heal the whole. Caring for yourself holistically can help create the best chance for success as you build a new life with a new set of skills sober. Being mindful of the pitfalls that can result from a lack of structure is one way to look out for your mental health and in turn your recovery. If you find yourself in between jobs for a period of time, either as you rebuild life anew or you pause to prioritize putting your sober life skills into practice, leisure activities assist in forming that foundation and structuring your time. Fun and fulfillment are missing from the lives of those struggling with a substance use disorder and as you recover they should find a place in yours once again. 


The Bridge NYC is a boutique luxury sober living facility for men seeking a concierge experience to balance outpatient programs, school, or work-life resulting in a sustainable, lasting recovery. Call (646) 928 0085 today for more information about admissions or The Clean Fun Network.


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