Operation Relaxation
How to clear your mind and get into leisure mode

by Amanda Cherrin

Taking it easy is not always as easy at it sounds. Some tips to help you get into leisure mode when even relaxation becomes stressful. A few months ago I decided that I had had enough of my go-go New York life and relocated to the Bay Area, a small pocket of the country known for its hippie roots, liberal politics and penchant for Eastern practices.

My plan was simple: Spend a few months unwinding from a year of six-day work weeks, daily bar crawls and looming deadlines and then, after I was adequately zen, venture out into the world, find a job, an apartment, a boyfriend, and enjoy the bliss of my tranquil, but productive existence. My path seemed solid, and I thought what better place to achieve Nirvana then my native land, a region where the workday ends at five and yoga studios are as common as liquor stores.

A few weeks into operation relaxation I was hit with the realization that I couldn't even see the cloud I was supposed to be floating on by now. Although I spent more time in the lotus position than ever before and was caught up on all four of my beloved soap operas, I was far from chill. Even during leisurely walks with my parent's new puppy my thoughts were full of angst, guilt and insecurity: Did I make the right decision? Would I ever find a job as good as the one I left back East? Was I correct in assuming that the Bay Area was the place where I would find the most happiness? Would my childhood friendships ever become as strong as they once were? Was I on the right track? It seemed no matter how hard I tried to relax and enjoy my newfound freedom, I could not escape the demons that I thought I left in New York.

Relaxation, it turns out, is elusive. Whether it's a lifestyle change, a vacation, a jog in the park or even a trip to the mall executed with the intention of rejuvenation, it can be hard to leave the stress behind. Thoughts of work, kids, money troubles and personal conflicts seem to be present even in the most "relaxing" scenarios, making true peace impossible. So, how does one get into leisure mode? Follow this expert advice and make the most of your down time:

1. Tune out the outside world
Make sure that your stress can't find you by turning off your phone, fax machine, computer and TV. Before you begin your leisure time, assess what worries are most likely to hamper it and take the necessary measures. (i.e. If you fear you'll spend your vacation being hassled by your neediest client, don't leave an emergency number and if hearing your phone ring during a massage will send you into panic, make sure your ringer is off before hoping on the table. "Once you disconnect from the world, you'll be better able to enjoy dinner with your family or a compelling book," says Sandi Kahn Shelton, a health writer for Ladies Home Journal.

2. Pencil yourself in
It's easier to relax and let go of the guilt attached to being idle when you schedule your leisure time in advance. If you, like me, have a lot of time on your hands, then plan activities during which you are not allowed to think about anything but the task at hand—even if it's as simple as working out, reading a book or watching a television program. "This is non-negotiable time devoted for your health and well being," advises the Rohnert Park, California Stress Education Center's website (www.dstress.com). "Regular exercise and time for stress management are a must. Find what techniques work best for you, and use these tools."

3. Find a partner
"If you think you're the only one staking out time to read a book, you're likely to feel as if the world is passing you by," says Shelton. "But if a friend is doing it with you, you'll feel better about it." So grab a buddy for a game of tennis, a movie or a trip to salon. You'll find there really is strength in numbers.

4. Stay in the Present
There's no day like today! "Mentally and emotionally, do not be consumed by things that happened in the past or fear events in the future," guides dstress.com. "Enjoy the people you are with and make the very best of the situation that you are in."

5. Control Your Expectations
Your vacation rarely lives up to what you had envisioned, so if your glass is half full, protect yourself from disappointment by controlling your fantasies of cloudless skies, white beaches and studly native men dropping grapes into your mouth. If your glass is half empty, push the thoughts of thunderstorms and muggings from your mind and stop negativity from poisoning your experience.

For my part, I'll try to tone down the dreams of spiritual enlightenment and flawless mental health. Who knows? It could be just the ticket.


Leisure Issue Contents:
Parlor Games :: The No T.V.Test :: Adventures in Crafting ::
How to Relax :: The Leisure Quiz :: Better Leisure Through Technology

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