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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Our Fast Paced Lives

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: May 5th 2007

All of us live incredibly fast paced lives. We commute to work and for many people the ride to work is getting longer as people move to more distant locations in the suburbs and rural areas. The journey to work is complex. Drivers are faced with traffic accidents and jams that often cause lateness. Many employers are not sympathetic to the reasons for lateness. Instead of sympathy they demand that people leave for work even earlier. Once at work, there are enormous pressures to be productive. The nature of many careers is that productivity includes the need to think creatively. However, it can be difficult to think creatively if someone is exhausted and stressed once they arrive at work.

According to an article in the September 2005 edition of Scientific American it is suggested that in order to maintain the ability to be productive as well as creative, it is necessary to take a twenty minute break from work and go on a "mental vacation." By "mental vacation" is meant that you close your eyes and imagine your self in the most relaxing, beautiful and serene place that you can. In other words, this is a kind of self hypnosis or visual meditation that actually reduces the levels of stress hormones excreted into the cardio vascular system resulting in the reduction of stress and exhaustion. The article urges that a nap not be taken because this dulls thinking and does not necessarily reduce stress. However, the "mental vacation" sharpens the ability to think and reason after the fifteen to twenty minute journey is over. In doing this visualization it is important to imagine all of the sensory experiences that would go along with the actual trip. If you are at the beach on your journey, smell the ocean water and hear the sounds of the surf hitting up against the shore. If twenty minutes in one lump of time is too much then a ten minute break will help, especially if repeated during the day as pressure builds up.

I can well imagine readers of this web log entry saying that taking a mental vacation is a waste of time and is an unnecessary luxury. In actuality whatever time is "lost" in using this meditative practice is regained in increased productivity and clearer and more imaginative thinking.

There is an additional factor to consider in thinking about using relaxation techniques at work and it is that stress takes a heavy physical and emotional toll on our health. Vast amounts of worker time are lost due to physical and emotional sickness directly caused by the pressures we face on a daily basis. A few minutes each day can help to avoid this outcome. Yet, I know very well from what people tell me that they do not have time for such things as meditation, breakfast, lunch, exercise, vacation and other restorative health practices. Like many Japanese firms do, employers should demand that staff take time to stretch, meditate and refresh their selves.

It’s kind of like making an investment: the returns can be tremendously positive.

What do you think?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

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