“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life” [i].
Every single day we are bombarded by information constantly coming at us. Our brains are processing more than 34 gigabytes, equivalent to 100,000 words, every single day – and this does not include what we do at work [ii]. That’s right. These statistics are based on out-of-work time. We are watching, on average, 5 hours of TV per day, as well as browsing the internet, playing games on our devices, browsing magazines, reading books, and watching YouTube. On top of this we have constant chatter and dialogue going on in our heads. We are thinking about past situations, and thinking about future events, neither of which are relevant as we can’t change was has been, and we have no idea what will be.
Research shows that in the 1980’s we took in 5 times less stimulation and information than in 2011 [iii]. No wonder you reach a point where you can’t even look at your emails or read another Facebook post, because you just don’t have the head-space to deal with it all. Your mind is yelling “STOP”.
So what can you do to eliminate these feelings of overwhelm and empty your mind a little?
Well, the ideal scenario of course is to go on a retreat where you can spend a weekend, week or month, or longer, just being in the moment participating in meditation, yoga, walks and importantly noble silence (a deep silence that is calming and healing). Of course I understand it is not always possible to go on such a retreat. Sometimes we don’t have the time, the finances or the means of retreating from modern day living in such a way.
However, you can recreate some of these experiences at home:
- Dedicate 20 minutes every morning to a mindfulness meditation practice
- Attend a regular yoga class, especially a yin class for deeper relaxation and peace
- Dedicate a couple of mornings or evenings each week to noble silence, and advise family so that they respect this practice. What this means is spending time not communicating, instead turning inwards and just being in the moment
- Turn off the TV and your social media 30 minutes before bed so that you can still your mind before you drift off into sleep
- Turn off the TV while you eat dinner and really focus on each mouthful of food, appreciating with gratitude where it came from, who grew it, who prepared it and how it tastes
What’s the aim of this downtime?
What you are aiming to do is to have all the tension and brain chatter dissolve and evaporate. Emptying your mind of constant useless and meaningless thoughts allows more instances, more gaps, for stillness, for being. It seems that we almost need to overcome this feeling of guilt that many of us have in regard to being still. We have been conditioned to be busy – business is Godly, idleness is a sin. This simply is not true. Jon Kabat-Zinn states that “Ordinary thoughts course through our mind like a deafening waterfall”. To regain harmony in our lives he suggests we rest in stillness, stop doing and just be. Re-establishing our base in the present moment has many benefits – it lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, reduces fatigue and strengthens our core, our life force [iv].
It takes dedication and commitment to allow your brain this important downtime and stillness, but it is absolutely worth it. Your health and wellbeing need you to offer your mind periods of stillness so that you can function at your best every day, for yourself, and for the people who count on you for care or support.
[i] Ferris Jabr, 2013, Downtime, Scientific American.
[iv] John Viscount, 2014, Mind What Matters – A Pep Talk for Humanity