Relaxing might make us feel less stressed, but as we argue in Be Bulletproof, not all forms of relaxation are equally effective. In fact, some activities that we think of as relaxation may actually be making us less able to cope! It seems that scientific research bears this out. It appears that slumping in front the TV is the worst culprit, with playing computer games following closely behind.
Researchers from the Johannes Guttenburg University in Mainz discovered that those people who responded to stress by taking solace in TV or computer games were more inclined to feel guilty, see themselves as procrastinators and have a lower over all sense of vitality. It seems that slumping in front of the TV lowers our overall sense of self-efficacy.
Dr Karen Reivich, co-author of The Resilience Factor and one of the world’s leading researchers into resilience, identifies ‘self-efficacy’ as one of the key pillars of resilience. Self-efficacy is confidence in your ability to solve problems. It is about knowing that you can master the skills that will be needed to cope in a situation.
The problem arises because most of us recognize that being a couch potato, is what we do when we lack the willpower or the energy to do anything more proactive or constructive. That’s the hypothesis that the researchers put forward in their study, The Guilty Couch Potato. Being stressed or exhausted means that we are more likely to go for the lazy or easy option, as opposed to the option that requires more will power, such as doing exercise, or meeting friends, or doing something more intellectually stimulating. This is because, when we are stressed or feeling low, we suffer from what psychologists call ‘ego-depletion.’ Once we go for the easy option, we self-identify as the sort of person who makes that sort of choice, and an unhelpful cycle of thinking is reinforced.
Relaxation is vital to performance, but not all relaxation is the same. We argue in Be Bulletproof, How to achieve success in tough times at work, that it’s important to be able to differentiate between active and passive forms of relaxation. What might be called ‘passive’ forms of relaxation – the unholy three of alcohol, cigarettes and television (which could be extended to internet and computer games) – tend not to have the beneficial effects of ‘active’ relaxation: yoga, sport, taking a walk. Reading a book or going to a play or movie is more effective than passively settling in front of the TV or internet, because these activities require you to invest a little more cognitive effort and as a result you have the therapeutic benefits of distraction.
We all have our weaknesses: sweets, junk food, alcohol or cigarettes, to name but a few. When we feel stressed or anxious, it’s very easy to obey our immediate instinct to reach for one of these familiar comfort blankets.
Is all TV bad? No, if you are genuinely engaged with a good story, such as a good movie or TV drama, you will benefit from the therapeutic effects of storytelling. Similarly you will benefit from a good mind expanding documentary. As you will have spotted the key phrase here is ‘actively engaged.’ Happy relaxation. Enjoy!