Each season brings with it it’s own “to do” list. Take spring. We think of cleaning, tax time, the beginning of yard work. How about fall? Fall is the time to prepare for the upcoming winter months, raking leaves, getting back into the school mode. Winter brings us indoors, celebrating the holidays, visiting family and friends. But what about summer? While it brings to mind beach vacations and family time with the kids out of school, it can actually mean so much more. Summer is the perfect time to engage in our own personal downtime. That is time specifically set aside for us to recharge, getting off that hamster wheel of life, with all the its demands and deadlines. Interestingly, there is a building evidence revealing the tremendous benefits of leveraging a quiet mind with overall better health.
Today’s society seems to frown upon idleness. Being busy creates an illusion of importance and accomplishment. A recent study by the University of Virginia and Harvard (2014) found that 83% of participants spent “zero time relaxing or thinking” although almost 100% engaged in some kind of leisure activity. This says that while a person actively pursues a way to relax, they are actually not truly relaxing in a way that promotes reflection and deep thought. Neuroscientists are discovering that this overkill in the busy department significantly reduces our ability to be productive and creative as time goes on. This decline has a domino effect that bleeds into both our personal and professional lives.
Using time in an unstructured way takes our brain away from performing our daily tasks and enables what neuroscientists call the “default mode network.” This is where our creativity kicks in and problem solving happens. Pushing the pause button in our lives and letting ourselves just “be” elevates our mental status. It opens the door to improved health and well-being in addition to increased creativity. The Energy Project, a consulting firm specializing in worker engagement and productivity, found that the more a person works beyond the 40 hour week, the worse they feel and the more disengaged they become. Focussing our efforts on daily downtime affects the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” and “feed and breed” activities of the body such as:
- sexual arousal
Idle time greatly benefits the body by reducing the heart rate, improving digestion, elevating moods, and replenishing glucose and oxygen levels – just to name a few.
Remember, there is a big difference between quieting ourselves and enjoying leisure time. People mistake watching television or going out with friends as a form of quieting ourselves. This still keeps the brain busy. Purposefully choosing to sit quietly by ourselves and giving our minds permission to wander is how we truly reap the benefits of downtime. Do yourself a favor and take advantage of just “being.” There are far too many benefits for you to enjoy not to.