Could this period of “social distancing” actually be considered both physical AND mental health gifts during these challenging days and those ahead? While many of us are working from home in our attempts to ease the spread and the risks of contracting this nasty virus, I am going to be bold and present a few of the gifts in this period.
Consider reduced stress of transportation to and from a demanding work environment. Consider being able to squeeze in a 20-minute meditation or nap during the day. Consider that these actually enhance our immune systems. Less stress, rest, and relaxation equals stronger immune systems as well as adrenal strength, our fight and flight responses to stress. Let me say it another way: Stronger immune systems = lower risk of and quicker recovery from illness.
“Doing nothing” can be huge. Studies have shown that “quieting” provides huge benefits. A 2013 study found that two hours of silence could create new cells in the hippocampus region, a brain area linked to learning, remembering and emotions. Decrease stress by lowering blood cortisol levels and adrenaline. Doing nothing and stillness soothes the nervous system.
I wrote this recommendation this fabulous book 5 years ago but now feel the need especially now to share this again. While the circumstances are very different right now, the message is the same. We live with so much “noise pollution” and constant bombardment of varying information, who wouldn’t be stressed.
For many, these days at home will be so welcoming and wonderful. I have heard from as many that “I’m not the stay-at-home type, what am I supposed to do?” Are you familiar with the phrase “that which we resist keeps returning until we learn it’s lesson?” Learning to be in “solitude” and actually enjoying it is very different from experiencing “loneliness.”I wonder if it’s possible that those who find discomfort with staying at home and not being “busy” can actually take this time to reconnect with self and to find joy in this act of self love.
These are indeed challenging times but when our new “normal” reveals itself, what might we take away from our time and gift of “doing nothing.” Perhaps we will hear different callings to our personal health and growth. Will we listen to our soul to journey forward with new and/or different choices.
We are each on our own paths. I will share that it took me a long time to accept “doing nothing” in my life and to treasure the messages and inner peace that have come forth during those times. Self care is second to non, especially now, and I promise that with turning off the “noise” (tv, social media, phones, etc) that you WILL experience less stress, better sleep and an improved immune system. All I ask is that you give it a try. You never know.
And now, a bit more food for thought from my previous post three years ago:
In her book, The Art of Doing Nothing: Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself, Ms. Vienne advises us on the beauty of savoring life’s simplest moments, especially for our culture of overachievers and those with busy, fast lives. This French/American author provides us practical everyday ideas for rest and relaxation, espousing the notion that “being” might be more significant than “doing.” This lovely book is full of delicious photos by Erica Lennard and delightful essays on the joy and benefits of staying in the moment, meditating, watching the sunset; even the simple joys of taking a bath or nap or simply sitting and pondering life without the guilt.
I think of my daughter and of her peers — busy, busy mom’s, whether working inside or outside the home. As someone who has “been there, done that” there is a tremendous amount of guilt when faced with the opportunity to do nothing or to tackle a home project. This actually applies to all women in particular who have been hard-wired or raised to always be “productive” or always “doing” something. Many moms have said that they can’t think of something “fun” to do when they have some extra time.
Ms. Vienne, also the author of The Art of Being a Woman: A Simple Guide to Everyday Love and Laughter advises: “Don’t be so focused on your performance that you ignore the world around you. If you are a Type A personality, pretend to be a Type B: Lie down on the carpet for no reason and stare at the ceiling. Make eye contact with a baby. Interrupt your train of thought to watch the twitching whiskers of a sleeping cat. When is the last time you (by yourself) laid down on the grass and watched the passing clouds?
Most of us know that other people, particularly those in Europe, take the month of August off to “play” and/or do nothing. In other cultures, there are regular afternoon naps or siestas. It’s the norm, not the exception.
The Joy of Laziness: Why Life Is Better Slower — and How to Get There Another book I picked up year ago tackles another perspectives on doing nothing as it relates to our health. Peter Axt, Ph.D and Michaela Axt-Gadermann, M.D. the authors, present a whole different take on idle time. Here are some really eye opening theories from this book based on both scientific and anecdotal sources:
• Each of us begins life with a calorie and energy account from which we can draw on in the years to come. Sooner or later, depending on our lifestyle, the account is used up. It is up to us whether we will travel thriftily through life or rush through it wastefully. Perhaps the Type A lifestyle is not so great for our health in the long run.
• If we succeed in lowering our metabolic rate and thereby our consumption of energy, we will age more slowly. The result: a long and healthy life.
• Energy consumption is largely dependent on our lifestyle. High energy use accelerates the aging process, makes us more susceptible to illness and can even shorten our lifespan.
The Joy of Laziness contains useful quizzes to determine our stress levels, life energy and total physical well-being. In addition there are energy saving suggestions for eating, working and exercise as well as valuable tips and charts for using mild to moderate energy as we age.
“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think” wrote playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) Do not be afraid of peace and quiet, of doing nothing, of laziness-for during this seemingly unproductive time you are doing something wonderful for your organism: You are saving energy.
I realize this particular book presents some opposite viewpoints on how we expend energy to those many of us have been conditioned to hearing. Engaging in high energy activities may perpetuate great health for some but perhaps not for others. I am one of the latter. My health history has proven that when I engage in high intensity health regimens, my body reacts adversely and I usually get sick. I have learned and my body appreciates the gentler activities I participate in.
I remember a wise, yoga instructor(former nurse) friend of mine who said this to me 11 years ago-“the harder you work your joints, the faster they wear out.” Hmm…. My mom is a great example of moderate to low impact exercise. At 83 she walks everywhere and has had no need for knee or hip replacements. My father-in-law, has been taking daily naps for 30 years and looks and acts 20 years younger than his 86 year old age.
We have heard so many suggestions from fitness gurus on various regimens to keep us young and healthy. It’s always hard to hear about those marathoners who die at early ages-after all, they were in supposedly great health and worked out everyday. Maybe some of these folks suffered from genetic issues, but then what about those who didn’t? In the quest for optimal health and anti-aging, could we be open to more moderate routines and more time for stargazing?
I also invite you to consider some of these these “slow” activities as stepping stones to “doing nothing.”
Don your garden gloves and lose yourself in creating beauty around you-clip some little flowers and bring them indoors to your bedroom, eating or living area. Take a “lazy” stroll in a nearby park or your neighborhood, around a lake or mountain trail, a gentle bike ride to your favorite coffee or tea shop; curl up with a favorite book, stare at the stars, listen to your favorite music. The idea here-let’s give ourselves and each other permission to do nothing and to feel joy, not guilt. Further, let’s keep it simple — little cost and whatever time you want to give it. In these simple acts of pausing in our lives, we might just save some energy, age more slowly and stay healthier.
As I finish this post, I’m taking my own advice, and heading upstairs for a midday soak in the tub!
Peace and Joy and GOOD HEALTH in Doing Nothing!
The Art of Being a Woman-Veronique Vienne
The Art of Doing Nothing-Veronique Vienne
The Joy of Laziness-Peter Axt, PhD and Michaela Axt-Gadermann, M.D.
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