Even relaxation can be stressful because of too many choices

Life in the 21st century can be stressful. On the job many are working longer hours due to cutbacks. Cellphones and email make it difficult to completely disengage from the office even when we’re on vacation.

Wages aren’t keeping pace with the cost of living. This means many of us are cutting our budgets and worrying about money. Stress.

We’re in the midst of a presidential election campaign featuring probably the two most unpopular candidates in history. Both spend most of their campaign time and money painting pictures of the doom and despair that await us should their opponent be elected. Even more stress.

To combat the stresses of daily living we turn to various pastimes that help us relax and recharge. Some of us have hobbies, such as knitting or woodworking. Some of us read books. Even more of us watch television, play video games or go to the movie theater.

Much of my relaxation time is spent reading. If I’m not enjoying a good book, I can usually be found in front of the television. And while these activities can be relaxing, I’ve also found a way to make them just two more things that cause me stress.

What could possibly be stressful about reading a great book by one of my favorite authors? It isn’t the reading that stresses me out, it’s the worrying about all the books I still want to read but can’t because I haven’t finished the one I’m currently reading.

Watching television is equally stressful. As I’m trying to enjoy an episode of “NCIS,” I can’t stop thinking that I should be watching one of the many movies I have recorded but not yet viewed.

I’ve decided the root cause of my unrelaxing attempts to relax is choice. Today we simply have too many choices. And no matter what choice we make, we’re forgoing many equally attractive options.

With the current services we pay for at our house, we have access to hundreds of TV programs and movies. I can even watch a movie on my iPad while sitting on the … front porch.

But when it comes to actually deciding which of these hundreds of options I want to watch, I just can’t decide. Our DVR is full of great films I recorded from Turner Classic Movies. They’ve been on there for months. Whenever I think I want to watch one of them, I can never pick one.

I’m in a similar situation with my reading material. I recently sorted through the books scattered all over the house and came up with nearly 100 books that I have yet to read. I start one, then another one. Soon I have four or five books going at once.

And to make the situation even more stressful, I seem completely unable to stop myself from buying more books. I wish they would declare a five-year moratorium on publishing just so I could catch up even a little bit.

Life was much simpler when I was a kid. We had just one TV and just four channels to choose from. Since my parents usually decided what we watched, I was stress free. If there were two programs we liked that aired at the same time, no worries. We’d pick one to watch, then catch the other one in summer reruns.

I didn’t own many books back then, so they didn’t stack up all over the house waiting to be read. Instead I would check out a book or two at the library, read them, then exchange them for two more. I was never stressed out about being behind on my reading.

Granted, my book- and TV-induced stress is what they call today a first-world problem. We’re actually lucky to live at a time where we have so much to choose from in just about any area of our lives. If you think there are too many shows on TV, you should check out the shampoo aisle at the drugstore or the cereal aisle at the grocery.

Regular, dandruff or two in one? Corn flakes or Rice Krispies? It’s all so stressful. Think I’ll go home and read a book.

Or five.