When you have a busy workload, taking time out to focus on a hobby or interest might seem like a luxury. But in reality, it can have huge benefits for your stress levels and can dramatically reduce your risk of burnout too. This is because when you are completely absorbed in an activity or mastering a new skill, your mind enters a state called ‘flow.’
“When we are in flow state, we are releasing a cocktail of pleasure chemicals,” explains Dr Chatterjee, whose new bestseller Happy Mind, Happy Life, is out now. “We are literally in the moment – time stands still and you don’t think about your to-do list or work. But regularly accessing a flow state isn’t just enjoyable – science shows it makes you more resilient to stress.”
Dr Chatterjee adds, “Research by the Flow Research Collective in North America even shows that if people regularly experience flow, sleep a minimum of seven hours a night and do active relaxation, they can’t burn out. Active relaxation means doing yoga or taking an Epsom salt bath, as opposed to watching TV with a glass of wine.”
So, how do we access a flow state? For 20 minutes each week, try to do something that’s enjoyable, slightly challenging and requires concentration. That could be cooking a complex meal, learning to play the piano, painting or even paddle boarding.
“If you’re struggling to know what to do, think about what you enjoyed getting up to when you were younger, or before life got so busy,” says Dr Chatterjee. “It could be doing a jigsaw puzzle – for me it’s playing on the little snooker table in our living room. When I’m trying to figure out a new shot, I’m not thinking about work or my kids. I’m in the moment.”
Happy Mind, Happy Life: 10 Simple Ways to Feel Great Every Day is published by Penguin Life (£16.99).
Catch up on Dr Chatterjee: “Don’t dwell on decisions” from last week here.
Sophie Barton is our Features Editor. She a journalist and editor with 20 years’ experience in the national media, specialising in wellbeing and lifestyle.