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Why doesn’t watching TV help me unwind? (Counselling Articles)

I am asked by many of my clients for tips on how to help them relax. They come to me for counselling because they are exhausted and overworked. Many of them share the habit of coming home after a long day’s work, sitting down in front of the television, and staying there until they are ready to go to bed. Many of them also share the frustration of not feeling any more relaxed when it is time to go to bed than when they first sat down.

Research has shown that watching television does not reduce stress levels. While television can be a welcome distraction, and can even be educational, watching television takes time away from engaging in effective stress relievers, and can contribute to the general hectic feelings of our everyday lives.

There are, however, a large number of activities that can reduce stress and help you unwind, including cooking a meal, writing a letter, exercising, meditation, reading a book, and playing the guitar.

Regardless of the activity you choose to do, it should involve flow. Flow, by definition, can be achieved in  any activity in which your attention is completely absorbed, you become totally engaged, and are challenged by being required to perform at 10% above your skill level.  The concept of flow, was coined by the Hungarian psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has authored many books on the study of happiness and creativity and the notion of flow.

I encourage my clients to read about Csikszentmihalyi’s research online or in print. I also suggest in counselling for my clients to try an experiment which includes totally eliminating all television watching for three weeks. Many of them report after the three weeks are over that they are experiencing higher levels of happiness and share the same realization that they had no idea that the television was not helping them to relax.

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Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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