Man’s oldest form of leisure may just be our present-day salvation from the stress brought about by the fast-paced world.
In today's pursuit of success – now geared at break-neck speed – everyone seems to forget the meaning of slowing down and minding the little joys that give life a fuller meaning. Everyone is running after their goals before their time runs out, thinking that they're old even when they're half their twenties. Achievement is satisfying; hitting goals builds up one's credentials. But what happens when life is all about aiming arrows towards that far-distant bull's eye, and never enjoying everything else?
This pursuit is nothing less than stressful. It keeps the mind awake, nudging it to keep on creating, keep on doing, keep on hitting the quota. The body follows wearily, not getting its much-needed rest to cope up with one's demands. Food choices are weighed according to which is accessed faster, which makes you more awake, which is more now. Important events (and people) are tucked in the backburner as you face corporate settings in the race to find your spot in the world. All the while, you submerge yourself in the company of workhorses, of sly negotiators and leveraging competitors. Deep inside you, something burns. It could be passion, or it could be yourself.
When faced with stress, the body triggers its own stress alarm: the hypothalamus releases the hormone corticoliberin which then gives way to a stream of transmitters such as cortisol and adrenaline, making the body more awake, alive, and jittery. This is when you feel your heart beating faster, your blood pressure higher, your sweat glands sweatier. Such events might make you feel stimulated and alive, but staying on this peak can be a bit of a problem, because what goes up must come down. And when your “awake” hormones take that glide, you’ll be experiencing what seems to be a flipping of the coin: fatigue.
Fatigue does not only affect one’s physical state; it also has its mental counterpart. In his book Death in Venice, German author Thomas Mann wrote about Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author in his fifties who religiously devoted his life to his craft, until he stumbled on a writer's block. His journey to Venice, however, changed von Aschenbach's disposition, prompting him to take notice of his appearance, admire the little details in between, and fall in love before dying from rotten strawberries. Despite this humorous ending, the other comical thing is one's breaking of the back before finally realizing, ah, I need to take a pause, breakaway, and come back with a new motivation.
Sometimes, a change of air is all you need.
In Japan, there's such a thing as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Back in 2004, a team lead by Yoko Tsunetsugu authored a study called “Therapeutic Effects of Forests,” revealing how natural environments can help calm one's visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile senses. In their experiment, cortisol, a hormone generated as the body's reaction to stress, is lowered when the subjects were asked to walk deep into the forest as a regular form of leisure.
There is no one-size fits all recreation
Outdoor recreation helps in recalibrating the mind and body back to its healthier state. But other forms of leisure, even one as simple as reading books or knitting, can have a positive influence on one's wellness, too. In 1933, medical journal Work Physiology unveiled a study that taps on the “Influence of Active Recreation on Work Ability.” Here, researchers delved on the question of what man must do to relax and recover. Surprisingly, everyone differs in their recovery systems; some tasks can be leisure for one, and stress for another.
Recreation is not 100% rest
Some activities, despite of their fun-inducing factors, can also contribute to one's stress. Sports, for one, can help you switch off from your workday routine, but it is not completely relaxing. The same goes with travelling. Imagine this: the horrors of an overly-crowded airport, delayed flights, and jetlag as you reach the other end of your destination. Holidays, even dubbed as day-offs, could be an otherwise busy season, as mothers cook for their families, singles hosting parties, children getting their fair share of Halloween candies or Easter eggs in a chaotic huddle.
Simply put, even the lesser forms of activities, ones we do for leisure, requires energy. Some even require more efforts compared to your normal workweek grind.
So, how do you recover?
Experts advised infusing restfulness in your daily routine. Hannover Medical School tried to experiment by adding pause schedules: for every 25 minutes of work, there should be a 5-minute pause. The same idea goes with the 1980s technique developed by Francesco Cirillo. The Pomodoro technique, popularly visualized as a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, is used to develop a discipline called timeboxing. Here, one estimates efforts required in a task, finishes it in one go, and end once the timer rings.
Focusing on priorities is one thing; recuperating is another. In order to give your best each and every time called for, there has to be a giving and taking-in of energy. Athletes are known to profoundly balance their stress and rest cycles. On the field, they push their bodies to their limits, but after reaching the finish line, their final quarter or the ending cadence of their routine, they take their much-needed pause. How? Simple: sleep.
Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, indulges in a nine-hour sleep at night. This is important, he says, as his body needs to take the rigours of his training every day. Others submit to relaxation methods. Mindfulness and yoga keeps you grounded, helping you be “all there” as you clear your head from the concerns of the day. Other recovery methods: sauna, massage, and a regular session of physiotherapy, keeps them in shape, aiding the inner workings of their body in recovering lost energy.
The benefits of regular recreation
Everyone needs a physical and psychological time-out. Recreation lifts up one’s mood, aid in physical recovery and boost one's overall wellness. Strikingly, it could also improve one's self-esteem and thus, help them gain better social relationships. It harnesses the ability of one’s mind and movement, paving the way for better sleep, which, among all varieties of recreation, is the most important.