Press pause: The health benefits of doing nothing

Your routine right now probably looks totally different than your usual routine. But it may be just as busy, just in different ways. Could it be time to hit pause? Let’s explore the health benefits of taking time to rest.

Maybe you aren’t ferrying the kids to and from school or extracurricular activities these days. Maybe your “commute” to work right now only takes you from the bedroom to the living room. It’s true — our lives right now are far away from the norm.

But while you’d think that leaves us with way more time on our hands, the reality is that many of us find ourselves suddenly tasked with taking care of the kids 24 hours a day, serving as teacher, babysitter and parents all in one. Add to that the responsibilities of working from home and you eat up a lot of the time in your day.

You’ve probably even seen some social media posts and articles encouraging you to learn a new skill or take up a new hobby during this time at home. But we’d like to make a case for something different — time spent doing nothing.

What doing nothing looks like

Let’s first nail this down a bit. It sounds straight-forward, but what does “doing nothing” actually mean?

It literally means doing nothing. Turning off technology and sitting alone in silence for a bit, allowing you to tune out worries, fears and responsibilities for a few minutes. This is often referenced as “mindfulness,” but many other countries have their own names for the act of doing nothing.

The Dutch, for example, call it niksen. Niksen is defined as not doing the things you should be doing and instead doing very little of anything. While this sounds somewhat negative, it’s not. It’s simply making a conscious effort to expend less energy.

In Italy, this same phenomenon is known as dolce far niente, translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Sweden calls it lagom, which essentially means “not too little, not too much, just right.”

While it can be tempting to move from one activity to the next, your health benefits when you simply pause and reset from what’s going on around you.

It can be difficult to turn everything off (and take a break from family members in your home), so don’t think that you need to devote an hour or even 30 minutes of your time to doing nothing. Even five minutes at a time will do wonders.

Try sneaking in a bit of nothingness before—or during—your morning shower, or during the time before you wind down for bed or get up in the morning.

How your health benefits

Busyness is all too often seen as a sign of success in our world today. If anything, staying at home has allowed us to reset that mindset a bit — being busy is not necessarily a positive.

In fact, too much activity and long hours of work that bleed into personal time can quickly lead to burnout. While stress can be a positive motivator in small bursts, too much of it can wreak havoc on your health, physically and mentally.

That’s why our health benefits so much when we slow down. Taking time each day to do nothing benefits us in many ways:

  • It boosts creativity and problem-solving. The time spent on “pause” helps your mind expand and allows for new and different thoughts and ways of doing things. This is why we may get our best ideas while on a walk or in the shower!
  • It puts you more in tune with what you’re actually feeling and your needs. Have you ever noticed that when you’re quietest you can hear your gut talking to you? (No, not your belly rumbling!) Quiet time helps you connect with your true feelings and react accordingly.
  • It allows your brain to reset and restore. During sleep, your mind restores itself. Time spent doing nothing offers health benefits for your brain that are similar. A bit of quiet time can help your mind reset so that you can be more productive afterward.
  • It reduces stress. Too much stress or chronic stress can cause you to experience all sorts of health symptoms, affecting both your physical and mental health. Sitting quietly with your thoughts, meditating or simply listening to your own breath can have a calming effect, working to mitigate the effects of stress.
  • It allows the body to rest. All that busyness also impacts your body physically, leading to fatigue and even aches and pains. Pausing occasionally helps to mitigate that some, allowing you short intervals of rest even in the midst of chaos.

So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, hit pause and spend a few minutes literally doing nothing. Your health and well-being will thank you.

To better serve you during this stressful time, Erlanger Primary Care and many specialists are now offering telemedicine visits. Learn more by calling your doctor’s office. If you don’t have a doctor, find one here.