“It’s all a blur.” That’s what I say when asked how I did it. While raising six children aged seven to seventeen, husband in a job with a 3-hour daily commute time, and experiencing my long-time dream to become a teacher, there was little time to spare. And although that time period is all a blur, I can clearly recall an incident that occurred when my oldest son was calling to me from the other room, “Mom, Mom!” in an animated voice indicating that he had some sort of story to share. My response to him was one that would be repeated over the years: “I’ll be there in a minute; I’m sitting here.” When I first uttered the words, I was surprised at myself. “Just sitting here? Is that a reason to keep from listening to your 17-year-old when he has something to say?” And then I realized the value of taking time to just be still.
Daily breaks are essential to healthy minds—and more productive workdays. But sitting isn’t the only way to rest from work. Exercise (in many forms) is bursting with benefits as a break from the daily grind. Whereas overwork tends to deteriorate a person’s health, exercise has been shown to be a preventative for age-related cognitive decline. Physically and mentally strenuous forms of leisure are often great ways to rejuvenate from occupational stress. Take a moment to picture yourself spending ten minutes doing nothing. Does it make you uncomfortable? Or does it put your mind at ease?
While completing mentally-challenging tasks, people will complain about “writer’s block,” or some other phrase to describe experiencing thought-paralysis. The antidote for such a condition is to loosen your attention and let your brain wander. Perhaps a change of scenery—either walking outdoors or just going to a different room for a time—can help rejuvenate your creativity. Deliberate rest gives the mind time to make fresh discoveries.
Rest is valuable at several levels: Daily (as aforementioned), weekly (at least a half-day to restart the week), and every season (4-day weekends or week-long vacations). Many may consider resting as an absence of work rather than a practice to be valued on its own merits. In fact, more than half of all paid vacation days are wasted by Americans each year, demonstrating the resistance to taking breaks. It may seem counterproductive to have time off of work; however, over a century of research shows that overwork affects decision making, comprehension, response to stressful situations, and consistent work. Alex Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, states that “chronic overwork affects your overall happiness… leaving you more prone to chronic diseases later in life. …Our bodies and brains greatly benefit from time off” (See Pang’s blog).
If you’re beginning to recognize the value of being still, the next step is to schedule it. When you become intentional, you will be more likely to take the breaks you need.
There is a wonderful children’s book titled The Book About Nothing, by Mike Bender, illustrated by Hugh Murphy. It is a very clever and funny way to explain this one truth: “Even nothing is something.” Toward the end, Bender writes, “And you can even sit and do nothing. (Which really hits the spot after a long day of doing everything!)” I couldn’t agree more. Doing nothing—meditating, enjoying nature, or just sitting there—really is something.