In our always-busy culture, doing nothing carries a stigma — one that some people will do anything to avoid.
All that busyness can exhaust the nervous system. And neuroscientists are discovering it can kill our ability to be productive and creative, hobbling us at work and in our personal lives.
Idleness also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings a host of healthful outcomes, including a reduced heart rate, good digestion, and better moods.
On an emotional level, empty time is good medicine, too. If you’re always doing something, says Andrew Deutscher, vice president of business development at The Energy Project, it’s easy to ignore important areas of your life that may be asking for attention, such as troubled relationships or unclear goals and priorities.
“Doing nothing gives your brain a chance to work out things that are not urgent,” says Deutscher. “Otherwise, we’re just skimming the surface of our lives.”
There is a difference between truly quieting the mind and enjoying leisure time, Deutscher notes. If you take a weekend day trip with friends or watch an hour of TV (leisure time), your brain is still busy. It’s a totally different effect than sitting quietly and allowing your mind to wander.
The key is being aware of your intention going into the empty time, Deutscher says: When you are conscious about your choice to let your mind and body rest, you are far more likely to reap the benefits.
When you take real downtime, he explains, you replenish your glucose and oxygen levels. You give your brain a chance to do some filing. You’re likely to feel more rested, clearheaded, and self-confident as a result.