Stress Management and Just Plain Fun
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
One snowy day in Virginia, I stood by a small lake that was iced over. As I was relishing the deep quiet of the lovely wooded area, I heard sharp barking from across the lake and looked up to see a large black Labrador Retriever bounding down the slope, tail-wagging and hell-bent for that lake. Lagging far behind him were his frantic humans, calling out to him to come back. To no avail.
With limitless enthusiasm, he leapt upon the ice. Predictably, he ended up in a splay-legged belly slide that took him to the center of the lake -- continuing to bark joyously all the way. Then, after several scrabbling attempts to turn around and regain his feet, he propelled himself, half-running, half-sliding, back to the far shore. There, his apparently enlightened humans declined to restrain that jubilant spirt by leashing him.
While I had to laugh at the dog's antics (it was really fall-down-on-the-floor-in-stitches funny), I was also struck with admiration for his perfect example of the unselfconscious sense of fun I have often tried to explain and teach to people I counsel who are stressed because they are overly restrained by unreasonable concerns. He saw something fun to do and he just did it. Without worry about how it looked, who might be watching, whether or not it was dignified or who might complain.
You need to find (within reasonable limits of safety and legality) places and ways to just "cut loose" and freely enjoy the moment. Being able to have unabashed, fearless fun is essential to well-being not only because it reduces stress but also because it gives, in a natural, non-harmful way, the same feelings many seek in alcohol and drugs.
I remembered, watching that dog, a naughty old school-yard rhyme that was quoted by a character in the TV series "M.A.S.H.," (Dr. Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist) as advice to reduce stress: "Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice/Pull down your pants, and slide on ice."
And, perhaps more poetically, I remembered the Irish saying, in one of its many variations:
"Dance as if no one is watching,
Sing as if no one is listening,
Love as if you can't be hurt,
Work as if you don't need the money,
And live each day as if it might be your last."