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. Maybe your “commute” to work right now only takes you from the bedroom to the living room. It’s true — our lives are far from the norm right now.

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 teachers, babysitters, and parents. 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 straightforward, but what does “doing nothing” actually mean?

It literally means doing nothing. Turning off technology and sitting alone in silence for a bit allows 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 what you should be doing and doing very little of anything. While this sounds somewhat negative, it’s not. It’s simply making a conscious effort to expend less energy.

This phenomenon is known as dolce far niente in Italy, translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Sweden calls it lagom, meaning “not too little, not too much, just right.”

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

It can be difficult to turn everything off (and take a break from family members at home), so don’t think you need to devote an hour or 30 minutes 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 walking or in the shower!
  • It puts you more in tune with what you’re actually feeling and your needs. Have you ever noticed that you can hear your gut talking to you when you’re quiet? (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 similar health benefits for your brain. 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 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 mitigate that, allowing short rest intervals even amid chaos.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed or stressed, pause and spend a few minutes doing nothing. Your health and well-being will thank you.

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