Take back your weekend

Down time is essential to health

By Barbara Pierce


Take back your weekend and leave the work at work — it will bring you life-changing benefits.

More of us have given up our weekends to our workplace. Technology makes it easier to do and harder to disconnect from our work. More and more, our work and our private lives have blended into one.

The surprising news? It’s not improving our work, and it’s not good for us.

Weekends aren’t what they used to be. It’s become a serious problem, both for our health and our work.

The weekend — the once-sacred 48 hours of leisure away from our jobs — has been lost to overbooked schedules, pinging devices and encroaching work demands. Many of us are working more hours than we did a decade ago, and worse, we allow those hours to slide over seven days a week, giving us no respite to tune out and recharge.

“People definitely need adequate down time,” said Brenda Carney, nurse practitioner and CEO of CNY Family Nurse Practitioners, New Hartford. Carney ensures that her employees take time off on weekends as well for planned vacations.

“Regular time off is important for reducing stress,” she said. “Enjoy your time out.”

We don’t need research to tell us that failure to take time off from work is hurting us. Our health is deteriorating, our social networks (the face-to-face kind) are weak and our productivity is down.

It’s not just health issues that arise, such as exhaustion, substance abuse, heart disease, and all the physical ramifications of overwork. People who are overworked also start to make more errors.

Germany has a short-hour work culture and is one of the strongest economies in the world. Mexico and Korea have the longest hours and are among the least productive. The United States and Canada are somewhere in between.

In a new book, “The Weekend Effect: Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off,” author Katrina Onstad dives into the ongoing struggle to step away from our smartphones and make the most of that time.

A well-lived weekend is the gateway to a well-lived life, she says. By saving our weekend we can save ourselves. Whether your weekend is the traditional Saturday-Sunday or another two days — best if they’re together — live those days well.

A well-lived weekend means embracing the weekend and making it count. Reclaim your leisure time with meaningful pursuits, as opposed to a Netflix binge fest that leaves you wondering where the weekend went.

Research suggests that passive forms of leisure don’t actually make you feel better; they just provide instant gratification or quick hits. As part of that Sunday night letdown, people think, “I went to the mall and I got a pedicure — why don’t I feel any better?”

‘Active leisure’

Instead, Onstad suggests “active leisure,” which has much longer-lasting benefits. The biggest piece of it is socializing — finding real human connection. Rates of social isolation are higher than they’ve ever been. While we may be really digitally connected, we’re not necessarily connected to one another in a meaningful way, and that’s an urgent problem for our own happiness.

“I always thought volunteering seems so pious, and who wants to spend their weekend doing it, when it’s so boring?” Onstad asks. “But it turns out that volunteering actually creates the sensation of more time. If you don’t want to spend every Saturday volunteering at a soup kitchen, then try a one-off event here and there, because there’s incredible value in that.

There are many volunteer opportunities in the Mohawk Valley.

Or consider a hobby you can get enthusiastic about. “I’ve been doing photography for a long time,” said Lynn Scarfuto of Herkimer. “Lately I’m passionate about doing macro with flowers.”

As a member of Mohawk Valley Through the Lens, Scarfuto’s photographs are displayed on the group’s Facebook page.

And there is much to explore, much to excite us and give us a fresh perspective, such as places rich with history.

The Erie Canal inspires awe in Brian Howard of Sherburne. “Speaking for myself, it’s the most significant landmark of our area,” said Howard, executive director of the Oneida County History Center. “So much of the history that runs through this county is connected to the Erie Canal. Indulging in the history of our area, there’s nothing better than the canal.”

And, with our state parks, rivers, canals, and mountains, we have some of the most beautiful scenery in the nation. Expose yourself to the benefits of nature.