Experts Advise Americans to Savor Summer

It's officially summertime. But before you know it, it'll be gone.

Experts agree that the modern world grants us less time to loll in the sun and, perhaps more importantly, that people don't know how to fritter away the free time they do have.

"In our experience, we're finding that people don't understand the idea of relaxation," Paul DiModica, president of CEO-coaching firm DigitalHatch, said.

And there are plenty of culprits to point the finger at.

DiModica lays the blame with the suddenly gloomy work world that we found ourselves in after the golden '90s proved to be an illusion.

"Because the (dot-com) crash was so dramatic, there's an accelerated fear for job security," he said. "There's a psychological fear that says, 'work harder, my boss needs to think I'm here more.'"

For kids, year-round school schedules and afterschool and summer hours packed with clubs and activities mean less time for stress-free frolicking, Los Angeles psychologist Robert Butterworth said.

"It used to be everyone in schools took off in the summer," he said. "The kids are in year-round school or summer school now because of academic demands. Los Angeles has 'tracks' (programs where children attend school at different times of the year) because of overcrowding. They don't have traditional summers anymore."

And for both children and adults, progress, that great time-saver, has proven a double-edged sword.

"Technology is both more productive and more counterproductive," DiModica said. "Initially, you get a huge burst because it allows you to always be connected with your cell phone or laptop or PDA, but individuals burn out quicker because of technology."

So what’s the best way to savor the summer? Experts say the answer has always been with us, and it's as simple as learning to let go.

"For adults, it's really about getting out of the car and away from the television," Franklin Pierce College professor John Harris said. "Even if you take a walk right in the neighborhood, look for the margins of the neighborhood, the wetlands or the fields. There's enough there to occupy your time and free up your thoughts from the rest of the structured part of your life."

Harris is director of the Monadnock Institute of Nature, Place and Culture at the New Hampshire school.

"Vacation doesn't have to be thousands of miles away," Butterworth agreed. "In a psychological sense, it's doing things you don't normally do, like learning tennis or doing activities you couldn't do in winter."

One way Butterworth wouldn't define a good vacation: doing stressful work like painting the house or remodeling a room.

"Some people work harder on vacation," he said. "I think the goal is to recuperate and change pace."

Lifework-balance and stress-management consultant Simma Lieberman, of Berkeley, Calif., said learning to relax can be accomplished in increments.

"Can you not take a lunch hour, leave an hour or two earlier so you have more time with your family?" she said. "You have to be more flexible instead of saying, 'My child is going to sleep at 7 p.m. every night no matter what.' Little things like making lemonade together with your child instead of having to worry about homework — that's really important."

DiModica lays down a few basic rules for his clients: Shut off the laptops and PDAs at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, check corporate e-mails only once on the weekend, and pursue at least one sport.

"Understand that this is your life," he said in a telephone interview from Atlanta.

And understand that for your kids, growing into adult lives means lots of play and unstructured activities, according to Darrell Hammond, the self-described "CEO of Play" for Kaboom!, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that builds playgrounds across the country.

"Play is the work of children," he said. "We need them to slow down and have childhoods. See something green every day."