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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Where Did All the Time Go?

As Americans, we live in a society characterized by pleasure-seeking and overconsumption.  We are currently suffering many of the negative effects of overconsumption, including landfills and the obesity epidemic. In the midst of all this abundance, there is one thing most of us are starving for. More time!  More time to sleep, more time with our families, more time to get our errands done. More time to think about our lives and make the best decisions for ourselves, more time for self-care, more time for exercise.  As a nation, we are characterized by our work and productivity ethic. To slow down means to fall behind the competition or not to meet our goals for sales or income, or not to be able to pay our rent at the end of the month.  From High School onwards, most children and adults in this country don't get enough sleep, with damaging effects on learning, mood, weight and a host of other areas. The quality of life of US children is lower than in many European countries, according to current worldwide statistics. When asked what one thing they would like to have, most US children asked for more time with their parents.  Part of the problem with time in our big cities is that our society is so mobile, so we can't count on having family around to pitch in or help us out. Oftentimes, it's all up to us sandwich generation late baby boomers to look after our kids and try to figure out how to visit or care for aging parents living far away.  Marriages are also affected when there is no time for physical intimacy or to take time to negotiate conflict and reach a better understanding of our partner's needs.

As a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Mill Valley, mindfulness techniques are an important part of my treatment.  Originally developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at Harvard, mindfulness involves slowing down our minds for long enough to observe our breathing, our subjective experience, and our thoughts.  When we observe our own reactions with relaxed acceptance, we are able to withhold judgment and get closer to our own truths.  When we let go of our attachments to some particular outcome that boosts our self-esteem, we take some pressure off ourselves and can make more conscious and mindful choices about how we spend our time and what we allocate our efforts to.  Research shows that beyond the point at which our basic needs are met, more money doesn't lead to more happiness. Rather, it is the quality of our relationships that makes us happy.  Exercise, health, and fitness can also combat depression and improve sleep quality.   Seeing a psychologist to deal with an important life issue takes time and commitment, but by helping you make better choices about how to spend your energy and resources, it is an investment that can pay huge dividends by giving you more time, choice, and freedom.
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