March 02, 2016

Understanding Leisure as an Essential Part of Self-Care

 

 

Just back from vacation, I thought some good words about leisure were in order:

Inadequate leisure and vacation time is a major source of emotional disorders in America.  Too many Americans don't know how to relax and simply don't take enough time for vacations .
 
It's not our fault. Our history and heritage exhibited a hard work ethic out of necessity.  Building a new country out of the wilderness required great personal sacrifice. However,  the debt to nation building has been paid and the greater threat to our modern lives comes from over-work.  
 
Given our culture's unrealistic attitude about hard work and its lack of understanding and appreciation of vacations and leisure, it is no surprise that so many Americans experience anxiety and other stress related disorders.  Unfortunately, societal awareness has not caught up with the technological realities of urban existence.
 
Nowhere is this unhealthy attitude more explicitly expressed than in the 2015 Cadillac commercial which literally says that Americans succeeded  because, unlike other countries, we worked instead of taking time off for vacation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNzXze5Yza8
 
Despite this bias, it is clear both medically and psychologically that leisure is not a waste of time !   Indeed, giving both your body and time off is not a waste of time that could be better spent working. Far from it. Leisure and non-stressing activity is a necessity for not only  good physical and mental health but also for maximum performance and productivity.
 
Recent brain research shows that the brain needs down time to repair itself from the stresses and challenges of everyday life.  Practices such as daily meditation and naps from time to time are good ways to provide this stress-free time.  In addition, longer periods of relaxation , vacations from work, are essential for keeping our bodies and minds in tip top shape.
 
Think of it this way. When we buy an automobile we understand that we just can't drive it.  To keep it running at its best, requires regular maintenance and care.  The same is true for us.  Although we falsely think that our bodies and minds can be pushed and pushed, without down time, deteriorating performance and even serious breakdowns can occur.  Far from being an unnecessary luxury, leisure time is a crucial part of self- care and maintenance.  Rest is just as necessary for minds and bodies  as an oil change is for our car's upkeep.
 
So ... the next time you feel guilty about taking time off, ask yourself do you feel the same way about taking your car in for a tune-up ?  Remember  that taking care of your physical and emotional health is way more important than looking after your automobile.   Go on, give yourself permission to relax.  
 
Rev, Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC  3 2 2016

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