Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Importance of Doing Nothing

We all mention (at times, complain) that we live in a constantly on-the-go world. Whether it’s having a family that has to go to different events every night of the week, multiple jobs, or juggling getting additional education and paying your bills, we feel the squeeze on our time and energy. Everything (and often, everyone) pushes us to be more and do more. And we find ourselves in a quandary: unable to add one more thing to our busy to-do list, and desperately wanting to throw up our hands in defeat, hide under the covers, and not do anything at all.

To do list

Wait a minute: What if you really did nothing? I don’t mean for weeks on end, but what if, instead of taking a vacation where you pack up everyone and everything, make a gazillion arrangements and stress about itinerary switch ups, you simply took a week and did, well, nothing?

It sounds crazy, but as someone who recently had to evaluate her health and lifestyle, let me share with you some of the benefits of sitting on your bum – and why you should consider it.

You realize just how much you do. Let me tell you – I was underestimating just how much I got done in a day. While working forty hours a week, I managed to grocery shop, make 90% of our meals from scratch, spend time with friends and family, and keep the house going. Did I mention I color my own hair and do my own nails? And let’s not forget about my second and third jobs, freelancing (like I do here as a writer) and health coaching. That’s a long week. No wonder I was tired all the time!

You find you are chronically stressed out. One of the things I’ve learned as a health coach working with busy clients is that we are never accurate judges of how much stress we have on our shoulders. Acute stress is when a bear is chasing you, and you run for your life – brief and intense. Chronic stress is when you live with the bear (many of you know what I mean!) It is low-level, constant stress, and in today’s world, we exist this way, often for years at a time. Some of us never get away from it. And it takes its toll on our mental and physical health.

You discover how much sleep you actually need. Prior to the last year, I rarely got more than 6 or 7 hours of sleep. Eight hours? Who needs that much sleep? I went with the old adage: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” The problem, however, is that I was killing myself with exhaustion. When my doctor told me sleep and relaxation mattered, I rolled my eyes and asked for more blood tests. But after over a year of being tired, I was willing to give my doc’s suggestion a try. Surprise! I need – just like every other average human – 8-9.5 hours. Turns out I’m not superwoman who can go on less than 7 hours and still set the world on fire. Guess what? Neither are you. You’ll be amazed at how your mood improves, your well-being increases, and your overall life enjoyment gets better, just from getting more shut-eye.

Relaxing on couch

You see how much you are being depended on…and sometimes, maybe even used. We love our friends and family. We enjoy doing things for them and being needed. But there are times when people get carried away with how much they lean on us. Taking a week off, focusing on your own needs, allows you to re-assess, and perhaps address some unfair situations that could be affecting your relationships and adding stress to your life. It may give you a chance to evaluate on how doing one task may take away from your enjoyment of spending time with your children, your partner, or your own interests.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating becoming a couch potato for weeks on end! But giving yourself time to reflect as the new year starts, being honest about what we are capable of, and more than anything, giving ourselves permission to simply be and not allow our “lack of doing” to diminish our value in our own eyes. It’s worth some down time to ponder.

Contributing Writer

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