‘Leisure guilt’ crimps hol­i­day sea­son; art of re­lax­ing lost in fast-paced so­ci­ety

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

The prom­ise of a lazy Sun­day af­ter­noon may beckon. Per­haps a lit­tle vacation is tucked away in the hol­i­day mad­ness ahead.

Should we cel­e­brate — or run for our lives? Down­time has got­ten com­pli­cated, in­deed.

“Leisure guilt” is upon us, said Ray­mond Folen, an Ar­gosy Univer­sity psy­chol­o­gist who has de­ter­mined that Amer­i­cans have trou­ble sur­ren­der­ing them­selves to a lit­tle rest and re­lax­ation. It makes us anx­ious. Granted, the 39 mil­lion peo­ple who bat­tled their way down the high­way or through the air­port to some dis­tant Thanks­giv­ing des­ti­na­tion may have felt anx­ious last week. Those who must wran­gle a turkey din­ner for 20 are en­ti­tled to fret, and there’s al­ways Christ­mas-shop­ping angst.

Add leisure time to the stress list.

“Some peo­ple may avoid — or at the very least in­tensely dis­like — vacation, be­cause tak­ing the time off makes them feel bad or worth­less,” Mr. Folen said. “Of­ten, th­ese in­di­vid­u­als were raised by par­ents who in­stilled in them the no­tion that a good child is a pro­duc­tive child.”

They also could be leery about leav­ing their job unat­tended in un­cer­tain times.

“Leisure guilt is not a new phe- nomenon,” Mr. Folen ex­plained.

In the past, vir­tu­ous work­ers rou­tinely toted re­ports and of­fice cor­re­spon­dence home with them on week­ends and va­ca­tions, he said. En­ter e-mail, voice mail, in­stant mes­sag­ing, pagers, cell phones and wire­less In­ter­net, and the siren call of the of­fice is avail- able to the worker any­where, at any time.

“We of­ten have a strong ten­dency to check in with the of­fice, to see how things are go­ing. Work­ers jus­tify this as con­sci­en­tious, but, in fact, it may be the re­sult of fear and anx­i­ety about job se­cu­rity,” Mr. Folen said.

Go ahead. Take some time off. Even an af­ter­noon of loaf­ing — a four-hour block of time — is enough to rein­vig­o­rate most us, he added, not­ing that such leisure should be taken with­out re­morse.

“A vacation might even al­low the brain to grow some new den­drites — branch­like el­e­ments of brain cells that tend to break off un­der chronic stress,” Mr. Folen ob­served.

Mean­while, the na­tion’s leisure land­scape presents a chang­ing pic­ture, ac­cord­ing to an an­nual Har­ris poll, which has plumbed our col­lec­tive play habits over the past three decades. We have fewer hours of leisure time — 20 hours a week in 2007, com­pared with 26 hours in 1973.

We are easy to please th­ese days: The top ac­tiv­i­ties are read­ing, fol­lowed by watch­ing TV and spend­ing time with fam­ily. We’re us­ing our com­put­ers more and en­ter­tain­ing our friends and go­ing to the movies less. At­tend­ing church or church-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties is up, along with vis­its to the gym, walk­ing, golf­ing, danc­ing, camp­ing, play­ing with pets, swim­ming and team sports. In gen­eral, we’re get­ting out­side more. Eat­ing out, crafts and paint­ing also have at­tracted more in­ter­est.

On the de­cline? We’re not shop­ping, sew­ing, rent­ing movies, hunt­ing, ski­ing, wood­work­ing or sim­ply “re­lax­ing” as much any more, the poll found.

The rate of some ac­tiv­i­ties hasn’t changed at all. Our in­cli­na­tion to travel, play mu­sic or cards, cook, hike, run, write, boat, play ten­nis or gar­den has re­mained steady for sev­eral years.

The tele­phone poll of 1,052 adults was con­ducted Oct. 16-23.

Of course, truth is of­ten in the eye of the statis­ti­cian. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau’s 2007 Sta­tis­ti­cal Ab­stract, din­ing out is our fa­vorite leisure ac­tiv­ity, fol­lowed by en­ter­tain­ing at home, read­ing, bar­be­cu­ing and go­ing on­line. The least pop­u­lar were play­ing backgam­mon, join­ing a book club and ce­ram­ics.

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