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The ultimate stress reduction to...

Posted Oct 21 2008 12:21am

The ultimate stress reduction tool is free time! Who knew! In fact, why do I find this surprising? If I’m honest, I have to admit that I automatically gravitate towards this when I get very stressed.

And, just in case you wonder, that’s not free time spent in front of the TV, but free time spent puttering. Free time spent in utterly unstructured activity.

One of my friends has figured it out. He goes sailing, and if you think about it, sailing is about as unstructured as you can get, unless you’re in a race, which obviously doesn’t count for this purpose. Sailing for fun is relaxing and absorbing at the same time, a perfect combination.

I remember being quite surprised to discover that. I got on the boat worried about falling in and getting seasick. Instead, I found myself feeling more relaxed than I had in a long time.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at spending unstructured time myself, but I do have this little hang-up. I bet you do too.

Here it is: I feel guilty — I feel like I SHOULD be doing something a bit more productive, for example grade student papers, do research, whatever. Never mind that my mind is fried from reading too many of those papers already. Or that my research will go much better and faster when I feel relaxed and rested.

So why am I writing this now?

Because of this: I was puttering around yesterday, enjoying some unstructured activity, and came across an old book. I was about to put into a bag for my favorite book-recirculating store, when I opened it…

And saw some seriously cool info about coping with too much stress. The book is Robert Bramson’s “Coping with the Fast Track Blues.” It’s actually almost 18 years old!

But clearly not much has changed (unfortunately). If anything, things have gotten worse. A lot worse.

And this book has some seriously good advice. Here are some of the chapter titles: “Slowing down the Squirrel Cage: Getting Control of Overload.” “Keeping Your Distance from Unhealthy Organizational Practices.” And then there’s that section about creating free time and the benefits of said practice, which is what got my attention.

Of course, I know from experience that it works. That’s why sometimes I carve out entire days with absolutely no agenda, especially when I’m exhausted and stressed. They always feel kind of wasteful, but now I’m going to stop that self-bashing and appreciate that this is the most perfect thing I can do to rejuvenate my body, mind, and spirit.

Free time — this, by the way, does not mean vegging out in front of the TV, but truly free time. Just hanging out, alone or with friends. Bramson mentions floating down a slow-moving stream (this is what reminded me of sailing, which works much the same way and for the same reason).

Needless to say, this book isn’t going to the bookstore but on my “current reading” stack. And I’m going to give myself some more “nothing” time, this time with a clean conscience. I hope you’ll consider doing the same.


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