Preventive psychological prescriptions please
October 9, 2006 6:56 PM   Subscribe

Trying to find ways to chill out. I need something that can occupy my mind and entertain me during the evening without putting me in a trance or putting me to sleep. I can't relate to characters on TV or novels, so all I read is non-fiction. With music, it either puts me in a trance or I get bored. I've tried meditation but it just makes me go to sleep. Basically, if I'm not actively engaged with learning something new, being creative, or solving a task, my mind shuts down and I get bored or zone out. Other people tell me, oh that's good that you don't watch TV or anything, but you know, I'm just sick of being so intense. I'm 20, male. Any suggestions, fokes?
posted by Laugh_track to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
How much sleep are you getting a night? The part about falling asleep as soon as your mind isn't occupied sounds like sleep deprivation.
posted by the jam at 7:04 PM on October 9, 2006

If you don't already (I'd assume not, from what you wrote), I suggest taking up a programming language. It doesn't have to be something boring and serious, it can be producitve and enjoyable, and a good distraction.

That being said (and I know people will flame me for this) Ruby is an absolute joy to learn and play with.
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:06 PM on October 9, 2006

Learn to cook well. Take a course. Take a course in cooking. Write. Learn a musical instrument -- maybe guitar? Learn to program. Video games? Rent studio space and make art. Learn to write music. Get a dog. Camp. Knit. Make clothes. Do Yoga. Do sit-ups. Grow abs of steel. Buy a junker car and learn to repair it. Become obsessive about bicycles. Do the New York Times Crosswords. Build things. Build bookshelves. Build birdhouses. Sculpt. Get a telescope, a really good one, and immerse yourself in the stars. Remodel your house. Decorate your apartment. Learn to garden. Plant flowers. Paint your walls. Start a business. Volunteer. Learn to draw.
posted by ontic at 7:06 PM on October 9, 2006 [9 favorites]

Knitting! Yeah, a lot of scarf knitting is plain, trance-y stuff, but learn to do cables or colour work. Following complicated patterns will keep you on your toes and you'll end up with something nice at the end of it. Plus, if you start by taking a class you may meet some knitters to hang out with in the future.
posted by web-goddess at 7:08 PM on October 9, 2006

Learn German. And Latin.

What's wrong with being intense?
posted by oxford blue at 7:09 PM on October 9, 2006

I can get very relaxed while doing something physical yet mindless, like raking leaves, walking or biking. Something that requires concentration but not intense thought, like jigsaw puzzles or games like Bejewled or Tetris, might also be the thing you're looking for.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:09 PM on October 9, 2006

Seconding the suggestion for learning an instrument. One of my favorite ways to unwind is to improvise along with the radio or a choice album. When you're working on a new riff you don't have any time to be worrying about what you're going to do at work tomorrow or how you're going to pay the bills. Just flow and get lost in the jam.
posted by lekvar at 7:10 PM on October 9, 2006

Do scientific experiments. Meticulously catalog something. Learn everything about local flora and fauna. Learn to build computers. Learn Greek. Learn Chinese. Become a master at chess. Learn calculus. Do political activism. Learn to bake world-class bread. Get a head start on law school. Paint murals. Make necklaces out of beads. Get really good at backgammon or Go. Make films. Grow Bonsai. Get a head start on medical school. Learn to weld. Learn to make circuit boards. Read Copleston's History of Philosophy. Date. Make world-class desserts. Plan trips. Write plays. Write poetry. Create a web application. Refinish furniture. Learn about antiques. Do advanced calligraphy. Study a martial art.
posted by ontic at 7:19 PM on October 9, 2006 [3 favorites]

Might I suggest Go? It involves lots of problem solving, creativity and learning. Or to cure your intensity, perhaps Pot?
posted by Clock Attention Issues at 7:26 PM on October 9, 2006

Four things that I do to relax, that are also engaging:

1) acoustic guitar - learn new songs, play ones I know, or just have fun making noise

2) write - creative, journal, blog, whatever

3) juggle

4) learn/practice card tricks - I've just started this one, but it's pretty fun

Basically, all learned skills that aren't "intense"
posted by Idiot Mittens at 7:32 PM on October 9, 2006

I second knitting - I'm a PhD student and find that the best way to leave my work/research behind is to escape with some knitting needles and some really nice yarn to work with (btw, I'm a 26 year old male... so don't think knitting is only for the ladies). It helps if I sip a glass of wine and have some nice music on as well.
posted by sablazo at 7:37 PM on October 9, 2006

Crossword puzzles are also fun. Any organizational projects you have been looking to get to?
posted by fillsthepews at 7:50 PM on October 9, 2006

Take up the guitar, or keyboard, or mandolin, or banjo, or harmonica, or bass guitar, or ukulele.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:55 PM on October 9, 2006

Exercise? I found that going running, or for a long walk, at night after work was really relaxing. It allows me to collect my thoughts without uh, thinking about it? It's hard to describe, but just focusing on pace or whatever allows me to get into a contemplative state that I find useful.
posted by autojack at 7:58 PM on October 9, 2006

Go to the library, research interesting stuff on the internet tubes, develop a hobby which makes you think, solve the world's economic problems, whatever - just use it or lose it. If you are bored it's your own damn fault. There is so much to stimulate the mind available in today's world. That old adage that participating is like taking a drink from a fire hose is truer than ever. If you still feel bored, volunteer for something - serve meals to the homeless, but do it every week so you make friends and then can impart a bit of your wisdom to help them deal with their difficult realities (they don't really need your knowledge of the world, theirs is probably better, but they need to connect with people who cope to see how it is done). Whatever, feed your mind. You know, this place is a pretty good resource for that. There are several thought provoking posts every day, along with insightful discussion thereon.

You say that some stuff is too intense and perhaps something more relaxing would be good. Here is where a good hobby can help - take pictures, research your family tree, ride a bike, ride a horse, canoe, run, collect something, write something, knit, paint, cook, become an expert in cooking something difficult like bread, play an instrument, watch birds, play a sport, grow your garden, learn to fly, rebuild an old car, enter politics in your town, your state, etc. etc.
posted by caddis at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

dude, write a book.
posted by lester at 8:20 PM on October 9, 2006

You might try a figure drawing group. A group, not a class. (Because everyone is there simply to draw to the best of their ability, and no one will critique your work.) They generally cost $7 - $12 for a 3 or so hour session. I recommend this because when I do it, I consistently experience a very relaxed state of concentration, escpecially during the short poses. I am just trying to draw what I see, and have no mental space for any other problem. Unlike meditation, where the near-unattainable goal is to think of nothing, I am only thinking of one thing. The mental clarity is refreshing.

(Plus, um, you get to look at nekkid ladies.)
posted by Cranialtorque at 8:24 PM on October 9, 2006

Sounds like you need projects.

Make Magazine might be gold for you if you're physically / mechanically / electronically inclined.

When I have the time for them, I find writing, cooking, gardening, and repairing bicycles to be incredibly mind-occupying in a therapeutic way.

You might also consider massage, which is a really relaxing thing but in such a sensorily pleasing way that it keeps you "entertained" while it's going on. Yoga is also good in this way.

I would feel remiss if I didn't add that the unspent energy of one's 20s is very well spent on having the best sex of your life.
posted by scarabic at 8:26 PM on October 9, 2006

Seconding Yahtzee, backgammon, juggling, and bike rides.

P.S. "When I try to meditate, I fall asleep" is just the first stage of learning to meditate, seriously.
posted by salvia at 8:41 PM on October 9, 2006

Not to be mean, but there must be something you're interested in?

You can do anything you want, no one will know, if you're worried about your street cred, whatever that is. Play with electric trains, spin yarn, get a lathe and turn bowls or baseball bats, volunteer to restore a vintage show machine...any of these can be engaging, as can any of a million other activities.

(Heck, one of my best friends spends ages painting miniature figurines depicting lord knows what, and he's 40. I spend way too much time in the garage, myself.)
posted by maxwelton at 9:16 PM on October 9, 2006

First of all I want to say that I love you all, and I have bookmarked this page for repeated reading.

What's wrong with being intense?

That's the kind of thinking that got me into this mess. I tend to lose my grip on reality... it's just not emotionally sustainable.

Not to be mean, but there must be something you're interested in?

That's the thing, I'm interested in so many things, my interests change every day. I have a lot of interest, but no focus. I have ideas and I can get really involved in them, but eventually I forget about them and move on. I feel like I can do anything but I don't know what to do because I don't believe in anything, I just like to get worked up for whatever reason.

Specifically, I like artificial intelligence, neuroscience, music, video games, and math. But, I also like being useful to society.

P.S. "When I try to meditate, I fall asleep" is just the first stage of learning to meditate, seriously.

Heh... well, there goes that excuse.
posted by Laugh_track at 9:35 PM on October 9, 2006

Laugh_track: If your interests are wide-ranging, outfit yourself with some basic tools and supplies...enough so that if you get a whim to build a model of the brain in clay you can, or solder together some circuits, or do some programming or play some music.

And there's no shame in getting the passion to, say, build a puzzle, buy one, put about 50 pieces together and then realize it's not for you. Half the fun is finding that thing that does click, and laughing about those that don't. Put the puzzle back in the box and donate it to your local needy kids organization. Then: be ready to chase your next "passion." Recognize the chase and the dream can be as much fun as the assembly and the final product.
posted by maxwelton at 9:47 PM on October 9, 2006

I third knitting. You get to master a skill, produce something you or your friends might like or use, and its really easy to pick something either relaxing and trance-inducing (plain knit items), or concentration -requiring (cables, textured patterns, colourful patterns.) Also, its relatively cheap and portable.

And yes, men do knit.
posted by Kololo at 10:01 PM on October 9, 2006 shows what one guy with a goofy sense of humor, a bit of science knowledge, and extra energy on his hands can get up to.
You could pick one project (from among some of the ones listed here) a week. This week, learn to cook four awesome dishes. Next week, build a clock. Week after, learn how to repair a bicycle. etc

You may find that in a few years your energy level decreases. Whether or not this happens, it sounds like you've got great energy to make use of now.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:37 PM on October 9, 2006

posted by tabulem at 11:51 PM on October 9, 2006

I fourth knitting. There's plenty of knitting out there to keep anyone busy. Garment knitting might get difficult to tote around if you need something to keep you busy on the go, but there's quite a lot of other things available to you. And it does keep you busy thinking, if you pick the right projects.
posted by angeline at 12:50 AM on October 10, 2006

posted by baker dave at 1:02 AM on October 10, 2006

I heartily Nth knitting, but must warn you that it's not soothing until you've mastered the whole keeping-the-yarn-on-the-needles business. You think you're the worst knitter in the world at first, but then everything comes together and you'll wonder how you lived without it. People pick up knitting when they're trying to quit bad habits, like smoking and biting nails, and they need to channel their anxiety elsewhere. You could tell me a zombie apocalypse was nigh and I'd probably call my mom and then find a scarf that needed finishing.

Added bonus: boys who knit are incredibly sexy.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:24 AM on October 10, 2006

You need some kind of physical exercise. Something to take your mind out of itself, and focus it on what's going on around you. Something like meditation, but while moving. For some people, running fits this purpose because it allows them to just focus on running, and not what happened that day, or what's going on tomorrow, but rather just what's going on right now, i.e. putting one foot in front of the other. It's kinda like meditation, except no one falls asleep while running. If you approach running from this point of view, and not from a goal-centered POV, you'll find what you're looking for.

What you're looking for is exactly what yoga was designed for, as well. The kind of yoga you want is the kind that's physically challenging, that forces you to pay attention to what's going on in your body right this instant, and doesn't allow you time for your mind to wander. This slowly trains you to be able to control your presence of mind, which is the first step towards being able to control what you're emotionally involved in.

Right now, your intensity is driving you crazy because you don't know how to channel and control it. You're under the impression that what's going on up there in your head has some kind of objective reality, and you couldn't be more wrong.

Let me ask you a couple questions:
Are you what you think?
Are you what you feel?
Are you what you desire?
If not, what is left?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:38 AM on October 10, 2006

It seems to me that you're not relaxed enough to get into things that are relaxing. This trap is very familiar to me personally.

For me, it is much easier to relax and achieve "slow concentration" in an uncluttered environment. I love places like hotel rooms, coffee shops, airplanes etc which are comfortable enough but provide limited opportunities for action. Long drives are a special treat.

Achieving this at home means getting rid of everything that you don't use or love. Write off projects that you know you'll never finish and get rid of associated materials. Throw away/gift/recycle out of date paperwork, things that are broken and won't be fixed, books you won't read again, redundant electronics bits, clothes you never wear, and so on. The more you throw out the more you will find you have energy for doing it. When you're done, organize what's left in a way that keeps as much as possible out of your sight. I promise that you will feel a lot better, and because you'll be clearing out things that you've had for years, it will a very long time for things to build up to the same level.
posted by teleskiving at 6:43 AM on October 10, 2006

Have friends over and play games.
posted by amtho at 9:15 AM on October 10, 2006

I'm going to recommend crossword puzzles as well.
posted by jrb223 at 12:10 PM on October 10, 2006

Edit/write Wikipedia articles. If being too intense is an issue, you might want to stay away from the high-controversy ones, but that's not too hard as there's plenty of non-controversial articles there in need of much improvement.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:33 PM on October 10, 2006

I'm not advocating this, of course, but many young men and women have turned to marijuana when faced with your predicament.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:21 PM on October 10, 2006

Drugs are seldom the answer. He's at high risk of developing a dependency.

I think he should see a psychologist, we can't rule out the fact that this may be psychosomatic.
posted by oxford blue at 6:49 PM on October 10, 2006

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