My New Book Living More Than OK

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Conquering Stress With Flow

After finishing a term paper for my Social Psychology course in my PhD program I reflected over one article I had read about showing the importance of leisure activities. The article looked at how our leisure activities can act as a stress reliever in our lives. The researchers mentioned in the article how participants shared their activities moved them into a flow state of mind. As I have mentioned in the past, Flow is based on the research and observations of Dr. Mihalyi Csikszentmihali. It is that state of mind and emotion where the person is totally absorbed in an activity they enjoy and have a high skill level to match the activity. There is a sense of timelessness and ownership in doing the activity. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s research came from observing people involved in sports activities and the arts. So he was observing people doing their leisure activities and hobbies. He found that nine primary elements made up flow: having clear goals, immediate feedback, skills met the challenge at hand, focus of action and awareness, ability to overcome distractions, lack of worry, lack of self-consciousness, a sense of timelessness, and activity becomes intrinsically enjoyable.

From looking at the elements of flow described it is clear how Flow activities can aid in stress reduction. By being absorbed is something you enjoy doing, there is less worry, the mind is more focused and there in more internal joy in your life, These elements of Flow can counter act against stress. With stress having such negative effects in our health and overall life experience it is helpful to know by building time into our lives to do special activities we enjoy can help relieve stress.

Flow acts as a change agent that helps move the internal state of our mind and emotions to being more calm and joy filled. As stated at the beginning, flow is based on the observational research work of Dr. Csikszentmihalyi. He spent time observing rock climbers, chess players, dancers and other such activities for many years. Then with a questioning mind thought why did they spend so much personal time in those activities? He found they had a deep sense of enjoyment in the activities. There was also a skill enhancing aspect they held to internally. If you think about it the dancer wants to improve her skills and learn new dances. The rock climber wants to climb new areas. And artists wants to continue to improve in their paining style. He created the term flow to stand for the sense of optimal experience the participants felt inside with their absorption and enjoyment into the activity.

The article I mentioned that especially caught my mind is based on a research study to consider how leisure activities can counter stress and build resilience in individuals. Their participants were a varied group of adults from Canada. They made use of focus groups and grouped the people in related categories. The topics of the groups revolved around discussing stress in their lives and then discussing what did they do in their leisure that helped relieve the stress thus making them more resilient to stress. Some of the activities mentioned by the participants were doing puzzles, exercise, playing musical instruments, knitting, dancing and reading. My favorite is in the list is reading. Some of the resulting effects in the participants were feeling a sense of balance, renewed, and recharged. For many, the activities allowed them to put the stressors of life in perspective by taking their minds off the stress and being absorbed in the activities they found enjoyable. This sounds very much like the effects of flow in a person’s life. Many of the activities mentioned were activities that required a level of skill enhancement and they were activities the people deeply enjoyed. This is an important aspect to flow activities so that people do not tire of them as there is always room to grow in the activity with new understanding and new skill. What the researchers were describing was very similar to Dr. Csikszentmihaliyi’s observations of people who were involved with flow activates. This shows that flow has a positive effect in relation to stress.

From reflecting over the preceding literature on flow there can be seen positive connections to how flow can help people overcome stress by doing activities they enjoy. The mentioned connections between flow and increased inner motivation can aid in the strengthening of the building blocks of resilience which help conquer stress. The important question do we take the time to involve ourselves in such activities?

Reflection – What are your favorite activities and hobbies? Do these activities help in lowering stress in your life?

Iwasaki, Y., Mactavish, J., Mackay, K. (2005). Building on strengths and resilience: Leisure as a stress survival strategy. British Journal of Guidance & Counseling, 33. 81-100. Doi: 10.1080/03069880412331335894.


  1. You make some great points here. Maybe they are hobbies, for more than the reason of them being a time killer. Thanks, Frank!

  2. I completely agree with you Frank. Enjoy relaxation is as important as working hard.