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Getting Life: Fighting the summer blues

Published: Sunday, July 17 2011 6:55 p.m. MDT

The heat is on, summer is in full swing, and lurking just around the corner is a familiar peril: boredom. Before the anti-depressants stall or the whining gets out of control (I’m not talking about your kids), here are some non-boring options for you (or them) to try:

  • Don’t just do something – sit there. Downtime has an important function in giving us space to dream. Take 20 minutes to write about what you’d like your life to look like in a year or five. Turn yourself loose, even if it isn’t practical. Brainstorm a list of seven jobs you think would be fun; seven tiny changes you could make this week; seven things you might enjoy doing this month, and seven things you’d like to accomplish this year. Daydreaming is all it’s cracked up to be. Follow it up with some depression-busting goals, plans and daily routines.
  • Clean up your act. There is something gratifying about sorting, cleaning, repairing and straightening, even though you resist it. Find the first thing you see that needs cleaning each day and spend 15 minutes tackling at it then feel the satisfaction. If you’re on a roll, keep going. But don’t do so much you won’t want to do another 15 minutes tomorrow.
  • Make something ugly. It feels great to make something with our hands, voice or mind, but first it just feels scary. You don’t know what to make or how to start. You don’t know how to fix it when it doesn’t work or when to stop when it does. So don’t set out to make something gorgeous, just set out to make something. If it’s ugly at least you had fun, you learned some things, and you have a great story to tell.
  • Reach out and touch someone. I love it when someone drops by (as long as they don’t stay too long). Visit a neighbor, write a letter telling your seventh-grade teacher you thought he or she was great, call your mother, email three random friends on your contact list. No one on your contact list? Sign up for a class, take bread to the new move-in, go to the park and strike up a conversation. The happiest people spend six-plus hours a day in some form of human relating.
  • Look for trouble. What problem domains interest you most? (poverty, health, war, crime, environment, education, unemployment, community-building). What types of problems do you like to solve? Intellectual (math, words, politics, science); physical (building, singing, knitting, cooking); emotional (how to calm down, get excited, express anger, be happier) or relational (forgiving, befriending, listening, conversing). Pick one tiny problem take it on. Even better, get other people to tackle it as a group. If you can’t make a dent, make a scratch.
  • Line up your values. Write a list of your core values like integrity, faith, kindness, creativity, or open-mindedness. You can have two or 20.Write them down and then brainstorm new and creative ways to express your top values or put them into action. You might collect examples of people demonstrating that value and send your opus as a gift to a friend who epitomizes it. Try creating a poem about it, rating yourself on it at the end of each day, or using it to strengthen someone else. Use family history research, contests, gardening, home decorating, sewing, carpentry, music or other skills to put your values in action.
  • Get physical. Exercise is the great mood stabilizer, energy builder and immunity strengthener. Go for a walk, a swim or a bike ride. Play tennis, toss a Frisbee or try golf. Get a pedometer and walk 10,000 steps a day. If you hate exercise, start with two minutes and build up a little at a time. Motivation follows action.
Sometimes boredom is a needed cue to slow down, relax and unwind. Sometimes it is a signal that we need to tackle our fears and fix a problem, set a goal, or invest in a relationship. Either way, learning to constructively manage boredom is an invaluable skill.

Wendy Ulrich, PhD, MBA, psychologist, author, and founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth (sixteenstones.net), most recently co-authored the New York Times bestseller "The Why of Work."

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