I'M A huge fan of the quiet weekend – when no plan is the plan and you fully intend to spend the whole day pottering. On the flip side, not being busy, needed and in-demand can be sad and frightening. So, how to tell whether you need downtime or to get out and be sociable?
:: Recognise where you're at
The first step is to acknowledge what you are at – with zero guilt – and don't be tempted to compare. If life's been mega busy and you would give anything for a break, then that's where you're at. If life's been really slow and boring, your love life and plans have dried up and you're feeling rubbish about that, then that's where you're at.
It's not about whose grass is greenest, or who's got it hardest, or justifying your needs by how they compare to others. "No one is immune from struggle, it's often just the nature of that struggle that is different," says psychologist and health coach Suzy Reading (suzyreading.co.uk), whose debut book, The Self-Care Revolution, is published next month.
Social media, of course, feeds those self-comparison habits. But Andy Cope, co-author of the new Happiness: Your Route Map To Inner Joy, points out that we "know social media's not real".
"Stop comparing yourself with others; compare yourself with yourself – how could you feel a bit better or happier than you did yesterday?" he advises.
:: All about the context
If quiet weekends have lost their joy then some reframing might help. Of course, sometimes life is tough, with periods of loneliness, health battles or changes in circumstances, and there's no short-cut to getting out. But if it's just a question of struggling to fill weekends, Andy says sometimes we all need to step out of our comfort zone.
"If you haven't got a partner or family, then weekends can be a bit of a drag. You do need to force yourself sometimes, go and make yourself do things."
A decade spent researching positive psychology and happiness has taught him a few things. Andy points out that, as humans, we need meaningful connections with other humans – but, remember, social media connections are not the same.
Don't add too much pressure and be kind to yourself – putting yourself out there can be daunting – but taking a few small positive actions will help transform how your approach.
"If another quiet weekend fills you with dread, get proactive on using that time for something you find uplifting," suggests Suzy. "Make plans you're excited about. Use the solo time to devour podcasts, music, creative pursuits, or take an online course and expand your mind."
:: The self-care factor
"The art is in the mindful choosing of how we fill our time and the lens through which we view our circumstances. It's about identifying how we are feeling and using this time as our self-care," adds Suzy. "A quiet weekend at home can be delicious, especially when life is usually full and weekends are often spent rushing from one engagement to the next. Equally, we can fritter away a quiet weekend unless we put a ring on that time, check in with how we are feeling and mindfully choose what we do."
Jayne Hardy, founder of The Blurt Foundation (blurtitout.org), a social enterprise dedicated to helping people affected by depression, adds: "The pauses in life, the natural ebb and flow which allows our brains and bodies to set about their natural rhythm of renewal, have become much harder to factor in because we're juggling so many balls.
"It's self-care that allows us to keep juggling those balls effectively and with longevity. It's self-care that increases our sense of ownership of who we are, and which ultimately leads us to feel as fulfilled as possible."