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Why You Should Go with the Flow to Beat Burnout

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For American bandleader Art Blakey, jazz offered a kind of secular baptism. Performing it, he said, could ‘wash away the dust of everyday life’. Gamers, chess masters and athletes have long reported similar feelings of liberation while immersed in their own activities; when psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi began to investigate ‘flow’ in the mid-1970s, he formalised the study of a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has ever pursued a goal for its own sake – and lost themselves in that pursuit.

To be in the flow is to enter a zone of heightened focus. As with many forms of meditation, it causes the ego to fall away. Psychologists describe it as when ‘optimal experience’ occurs, and its documented benefits are myriad: a University of Bath study linked flow states to enhanced athletic performance, while others have found that it can improve emotional regulation and increase feelings of engagement. In other words, a flow-inducing pastime is among the best weapons we have against burnout.

But accessing it is easier said than done. That’s why researchers at the University of California recently conducted a study using brain-imaging technology to pinpoint what triggers flow states. Tracking the neurological responses of 140 people as they played video games, they found that they’re most likely to occur when activities are challenging enough to engage you fully – blocking out all distractions – but not so difficult as to trigger stress or frustration. So, pick your pastimes accordingly, then go at them full bore – and when the flow comes, just go with it.

Just Roll With It

Lose yourself in the moment with one of these flow-state inducing hobbies.

Drumming

Research by the Royal College of Music found that a 10-week drum programme curbed symptoms of depression by 38% and anxiety by 20%.

Woodwork

Just like spending time in nature, wood can help relieve stress, according to psychologists at Tampere University in Finland.

Bouldering

Climbing has proven effective in treating depression, going beyond the expected benefits of physical exercise, reports BMC Psychiatry.


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