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Using Flow Psychology for Stress Relief

Flow Psychology: An Enjoyable Route to Greater Fulfillment and Less Stress

By

Updated February 23, 2011

Using Flow Psychology for Stress Relief

Flow psychology can help you feel relaxed, fulfilled, and free.

Photo from iStockPhoto.com
"Flow" is a form of activity that can bring stress relief as well as life satisfaction. Mihaly Scikszentmihalyi, who was an important contributor to the field of positive psychology, coined the term and outlined the benefits of the state of being known as flow. As Scikszentmihalyi demonstrated in his study of flow psychology, experiences that involve flow can also lead to gratification and life satisfaction, as well as stress relief. When an individual uses flow psychology to experience flow, they have clear goals, they lose self-consciousness, and they become less aware of their sense. Time vanishes — they become completely absorbed in the activity in which they are involved, which generally includes demonstrating a skill. (There are nine specific ingredients in flow, but these are the main three components.) Groups can also experience flow together, creating greater harmony, productivity and job satisfaction in the process.

There are countless routes to experiencing flow (you can share your own favorite flow activities here), but the following are some common and effective flow-promoting activities to try for stress relief.

Individual Flow

  • Reading
    A truly good book can open up new realities, experiences, and ways of thinking. It can make you feel like you've gotten away from the stresses of your life, returning in a better state of mind.

  • Writing
    Whether you're journaling, blogging, writing a novel or a heartfelt email, writing can be a flow-provoking experience. It can provide catharsis, self-reflection, and an outlet for personal expression that can bring a sense of peace or accomplishment.

  • Exercise
    Working out can get you into a better mood as well as better shape. Add music, and you can feel like you're in a different world.

  • Hobbies
    The pursuit of hobbies is more than a luxury--for many people, it's a vital ingredient for a balanced life. Hobbies can be a wonderful creative outlet, a route to connecting with others, and can sometimes even lead to a new career. Perhaps best of all, hobbies create a sense of flow, and are an enjoyable part of flow psychology.

  • Cleaning House
    Though many people don't relish cleaning, it's an activity that can feel consuming and can provide some flow psychology when you're engaged in it. Just think of how you can become absorbed in transforming a room from "mess" to "yes!", or how putting on music can energize you and make the process almost fun. And when you're done, you have a relaxing environment for more flow activities.

  • Playing Music
    Playing music on the radio or your mp3 player can be a relaxing and immersive experience if you let it be. Playing music on the piano, drums, or another instrument can be even more consuming, and can definitely bring a healthy dose of flow into your life. The trick is to find the right instrument, play the right music, and practice, practice, practice. Whether you're playing for others of for yourself, playing music is a wonderful way to bring flow psychology into your life.

  • Gardening
    Doing a little gardening (or a lot) can bring you a beautiful yard, an afternoon of sunshine, some healthy exercise, and a nice dose of flow psychology! There are plants that thrive in every climate, and most times of year, so gardening can be a favorite flow-inducing activity for just about anyone who wants to enjoy it, and share the beauty of their yard with the rest of the world.

Friends and Family Flow

  • Game Night
    Have you ever found yourself having fun with a group of friends and realizing, surprised, that hours have passed? This is flow psychology at work. Gather a group of friends on a regular basis, include some games that you all enjoy (those with just the right level of challenge are best), and enjoy some regular flow with your friends.

  • Dancing
    You can go to a club, take lessons in a new style, or just host a gathering with a group of friends. Including dancing as a regular part of your life is a great way to incorporate exercise, flow psychology, and an extra bit of fun into your weekly routine.

  • Conversation
    Engaging in interesting, humorous, or meaningful conversation can not only connect you with others and strengthen your social bonds, it can provide a sense of flow. Next time you're deeply engrossed in a conversation, recognize that there are benefits that go beyond merely what's been said.

  • Volunteering
    Helping others is a great way to relieve your own stress while making the world a better place. Because there are so many opportunities to volunteer, you can choose an activity that uses your personal skills, one that connects you with others, and one that benefits a cause about which you feel strongly. Throwing yourself into volunteer activities, especially with others, can provide a sense of flow as well as a sense of pride.

  • Sharing Jokes
    Victor Borge once said that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. It can also shorten the distance between you and a state of flow. You can work at cultivating your sense of humor and sharing more laughter with your friends by putting these tips into action.

Workplace Flow

  • Brainstorming Sessions
    Sometimes leveraging the synergy of a group can create its own sense of flow. When you utilize brainstorming techniques, the ideas can just...flow, creating a sense of psychological flow along with them!

  • Team-Building Exercises
    Companies use team-building exercises for a reason. The sense of flow they create can translate not only into a greater sense of teamwork, but into a state of flow that leads to greater creativity, productivity, and job satisfaction.

  • Utilizing Strengths
    Jobs that utilize your strengths can feel like less work than jobs that require you to complete mundane, boring tasks. That is, in part, because they allow you to get into a state of flow and gain motivation from it. You're also left with a sense of satisfaction when you've used your special talents and strengths. Finding a job that uses your particular set of strengths, or incorporating your strengths into your current job, can lead to greater job satisfaction and more flow.

Basically, you can find flow-promoting experiences by pursuing what positive psychology refers to as "gratifications." Learn more about gratifications and how to find flow.

For more ongoing stress relief tips and information, subscribe to our free weekly stress management newsletter.

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