You deserve a break today

It’s nearly the end of spring term, and you can see on the faces of your fellow students, if not in your own mirror, that the stress is getting to us. People are looking sapped and surly at best, and some of us are even taking on that glazed “Jack Nicholson axing through the door” snarl.

For those of us more in tune with our inner needs, this is a time when we put our “happy places” to good use to relieve the tension for a moment or two. For those of us not up on this technique, it works like this: when you need a five-minute break from it all, just close your eyes and imagine a calm and peaceful place where you can relax and recharge. It can be any place you wish, just as long as it’s less stressful than where you are at the time. It’s an old trick, but it seems to work for a lot of people, judging from the number of folks who have told me recently about where they go on their five-minute vacations from studying and stress.

One friend told me all about her “happy place” in great detail a while back, and I was very taken by her ideas. She described an environment with lovely furnishings and accessories, where she could curl up and read a good book in total comfort, I was charmed, that is, until I realized she’d described a local Laura Ashley showroom.

Guys tend to have a more pragmatic approach. For some reason, one middle-aged man of my acquaintance described his happy place as consisting entirely of thin strips of wood, which he would proceed to bend into birdhouses that have no doors. I haven’t consulted the big book of Freudian interpretations yet, but I have noticed I don’t seek out this person much anymore.

Kids have even joined in on this. One very young man in my circle describes his happy place as Wrigley field, much to the chagrin of his Sox-loving father. One little lamb I know is convinced her happy place is perfect because it never contains vegetables or boys.

Sometimes I even imagine that animals retreat for a few seconds at a time into a world of their own imagining, as limited as it may seem. One of my dogs either had Restless-Leg Syndrome or lived in a perpetual rabbit-chasing “happy place,” waking or sleeping. And what exactly do hamsters think about when they pause on the wheel? Mounds of sunflower seeds? Sometimes my cat stops doing endlessly cute things with catnip toys and stares out into space for a few minutes. I say she’s having an “out of kitty” experience, but for all I know she’s imagining herself in an open field correcting the behavior of field mice.

Sometimes people use favorite songs or pieces of poetry to connect themselves to this imaginary world. I can’t imagine why, but one of my friends always goes into a trance when someone whistles the theme from “The Bridge Over the River Kwai.” Come to think of it, anything by Three Dog Night does the same thing to her, so perhaps it’s some sort of exotic disorder.

If the studying and working associated with the end of the term is getting to you, try creating a little fantasy you can slip into for a few seconds at a time to help you through. For some of us, that world will include a big, fat diploma or a dream job; for others it will all take place on a desert island with unlimited access to pizza. The trick is to keep your fantasies pure in motive and temporary in intention. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself coming to hours later and in even greater stress that before because you’re now behind in your work.

But some of us will not be able to resist a “happy place” without just a little forbidden fruit. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to end this column now to take a five-minute break with Sean Connery and chocolate Haagen-Daz.