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Thesis Statement: The relationship between leisure and the impacts is has on mental health, exhibits strong correlations. This subject of interest has been studied for many years and there is significant evidence to support the idea that leisure, whether it be through the use of work, play, self-care or rest (Crist, Davis & Coffin, 2000) does impact positively, on ones mental health. The continued importance of leisure, as an important domain of life has been widely researched and investigated to assist in providing many concluding statements as to how individuals of today can benefit from such activities.
I have focused primarily on the effects which leisure has on ones mental health, and how through the use of such leisure activities, they can restore their mental capacity and function, and partake in the same activities they used to with the same belief and confidence in themselves. The under-lying, and most essential belief in the development of occupational therapy, is maintaining the balance of work, play/leisure, self-care and rest, as these are the foundations for a healthy lifestyle Crist et al (2000).
In 1977, Kielhofner termed the healthy balance of activities as “temporal adaptation”. He hypothesized that the temporal adaptation is achieved through the interrelationship among the (i) amount of time engaged in particular types of activities, (ii) participants view of the importance of the activities (iii) participants perception of competence in performing the activities and (iv) how much satisfaction they derive from their chosen activities.
When studying cases of what is considered to be a healthy adaptation, the activities are assumed to provide a sense of productivity and accomplishment, which are essentially derived from the individual’s perception, Crist et al (2000). Kielhofner’s Model of Human Occupation examines how the motivation, performance and organization of occupational behaviour are exhibited in daily life. This model contains a habituation subsystem, which is made up of two components; roles and habits, which serve to maintain occupational behaviour, Crist et al (2000).
According to Kielhofner (1997) habits act to organize occupational behaviour by a) regulating how time is typically used, b) influencing how one performs routines, and c) generating styles of behaviour. He goes on to explain that roles not only influence the manner and content of the interactions but also require routine tasks and dividing daily and weekly cycles into times, Crist et al (2000). The interweaving of the habits and roles in daily life consequently form routine behaviour. Opposing this, occupational dysfunction occurs when an individual has a limited capacity to choose or perform occupations.
Kleiber, Larson & Csikszentmihalyi (1986) observed during a study of US adults how they spend their time. It was concluded that on average, 30% of the day was spent sleeping, 10% in self-care, and 10% in instrumental activities. From those who were gainfully employed, work took up 25% of their day. The remaining 30% remains as discretionary time. While this study provides insight into occupational patterns, the perceived meaning and significance of engaging these patterns is not evident, Crist et al (2000).
Crist et al (2000) stated that the work role is an occupational factor that strongly influences the balance and organization of occupational behaviour. Christiansen & Baum (1997) defined work as a skill or performance in participating in socially purposeful, and productive activities, whether or not the individual receives economic compensation. These activities can take place at home, in an employment setting, school or a community. According to Kielhofner (1977), work roles, both gainful and non-gainful, create a need for the organisation of daily activities.
Work activities offer the opportunity to gain a sense of satisfaction, competence and involvement and in our society; the most visible and highly valued work roles are those, which are categorized as gainful employment, Crist et al (2000). Mental health status is another factor that can influence temporal adaptation (Larson, 1990). Those individuals, who are considered to be within a healthy range regarding their mental health, are able to successfully meet the demands of their lifestyle and perform these activities.
An individual, who presents a mental illness, may still be able to perform their work role, however they may display difficulty in performing a variety of tasks, which will in turn effect their competence and consequently effect the enjoyment they would usually get out of the assigned tasks, Crist et al (2000). Employment and mental health status may be related to each other when analyzing their effects on temporal adaptation; however, the types of employment and severity of the mental health problems will ultimately determine the scope of the results.
Leisure benefits health by buffering people against personal stress produced by life circumstances. There are two important mediators, which determine the influence of leisure on the stress-health relationship, leisure based social support and leisure generated self-determination (Coleman and Iso-Ahola, 1993) There has been extensive evidence to suggest that stressful life circumstances induce physical and mental illness; however, this impact has been shown to be moderated by various processes including leisure participation.
According to Caldwell & Smith (1988), leisure is believed to have beneficial consequences for psychological well-being and health. They have also suggested that leisure activities influence health by promoting positive moods. Therefore, it can be said that leisure may help overcome loneliness and result in influencing individuals well being, (Coleman et al, 1993). Differing life events, and more so those of negative connotations such as losing a job, have been shown to lead to a higher incidence of illness such as depression (Thoits, 1983).
In saying this, the social and psychological factors impacting on health is being increasingly investigated in terms of the concept of “life stress”. According to Sarason & Sarason (1981), life stress can be considered a psychological state involving the cognitive appraisal of life events and of one’s inability to deal with them. An example of this is that if there was a death of an immediate family member and this could consequently cause varying levels of stress.
It must however be remembered that it is due to the individuals perception of life events which have been the most vital piece of information when predicting the illness outcomes, (Coleman et al, 1993). When life problems such as the one addressed above occur, it is the natural instinct to seek support to alleviate the stress. This can occur through the use of avoidance, obtaining support and problem solving, (Coleman et al, 1993). These coping strategies are believed to moderate the impact of life problems on health in two main ways.
Coleman et al, (1993) state that initially, the individual’s beliefs and dispositions may lead to an appraisal of life problems as non-threatening. And secondly, by enhancing the individuals efforts can contribute to alleviating stress that flows from these life problems before it affects health. Those who are suffering from life problems would seek help through these coping mechanisms; however, those who lives are relatively “stress free” would not benefit. In diagnostic terms this coping is referred to as an “interaction” between the life stress and the coping factor, (Coleman et al, 1993).
This process can be associated with an overall effect, which is represented by “main effect” and shows that social factors do in fact influence health, regardless of the level of stress. According to Coleman et al, (1993) these coping mechanisms are therefore said to provide a buffer against severe life crises, rather than having an overall influence on health. This finding provides the conclusion that leisure impacts health by providing buffering mechanisms that come into play when life presents significant problems, (Caldwell et al, 1988).
Conversely to this, the impact of leisure when life stress is low is less beneficial in the short term. However, in the long run, leisure is hypothesized to contribute to health by building health-promoting dispositions such as self-determination (Coleman et al, 1993). When analyzing the relationships between leisure participation and health, Caltabino’s study shows fascinating findings. Caltabino focused on the interactions between life stress and the participation in social, cultural and sporting activities and he concluded that they were all associated with illness symptomatology (Caldwell, 1988).
From the many studies conducted surrounding the participation levels and the direct effect they have on health, it can be concluded that people participate in leisure activities to gain a sense of camaraderie which in turn leads to an ideology that they will gain social support if more severe cases of life crises should present themselves (Coleman, 1993). Furthermore, Coleman et al, (1993) states that this leisure may buffer the life stress because continual engagement in some types of leisure experiences may foster personal dispositions incorporating self-determination, including a sense of control and mastery.
Caldwell (2005) addresses and interesting theory that leisure is therapeutic and contributes significantly to ones health. There is existing literature on this notion, which can further be organised into three classes of research: prevention of, coping with, and transcending negative life events. It is from here that leisure can become beneficial and help people move forward in terms of their health. Based on the work of Antonovsky (1979), the view taken here is that health is a multifaceted concept and includes not only physical well-being and psychological well-being, but also performance, self- realization and a sense of meaningfulness.
When looking at the primary prevention role that leisure plays in response to one’s mental health it has been said that leisure activities may ward off poor health and behaviors before they occur (Caldwell, 2005). Ponde and Santata examined this in a study, which concluded that participation in leisure activities is a protective factor for women’s health, particularly those living in poorer conditions. In this study, the leisure activities were positively correlated with low levels of anxiety and depression among women reporting no job satisfaction and low family income (Caldwell, 2005).
When looking at leisure from an occupational therapy viewpoint, this leisure promotes heath because “meaningful activity can influence social inclusiveness and encourage self-expression, therefore promoting human potential” (Passmore, 2003). From the study she completed, Passmore found that social leisure and the achievement associated with the leisure positively influenced mental health, and that mental health was most strongly predicted by leisure-related competency, self-efficacy, and self-worth (Caldwell, 2005).
In addition, some work by Szabo suggests that music appreciation; watching scenery through video and humor gained through leisure, equally help by improving mood and decreasing anxiety (Caldwell, 2005). As stated by Coleman et al, (1993), the role of leisure in the stress-coping process has received considerable attention over the last decade, and Iwaksi (2001) has concluded that, “leisure can be an important buffer against stress to maintain good health”.
Coleman et al, (1993), found that social support derived from leisure activity participation contributes to the reduction of stress and in doing so, promotes physical and mental health, but only for those who experience high levels of stress. Iwasaki and Mannell (2000) came up with three coping strategies; leisure palliative coping, leisure mood enhancement and leisure companionship. And more recently Iwaski (2001) compared the effects of leisure-related coping on immediate coping outcomes, mental health outcomes and psychological well being with general coping strategies (Caldwell, 2005).
From his research, he found that “leisure coping, significantly predicted positive coping outcomes, mental health, and psychological well-being beyond the effects of general coping” (Caldwell, 2005). The final way in which leisure can be therapeutic is when dealing with negative life events, however this does depend on the individual and may not occur when someone has experienced a traumatic event (Caldwell, 2005). In Kleiber’s case, the participants used leisure to find new meaning to life and become reborn in a way that allows for a “fuller realization of one’s potential” (Caldwell, 2005).