Downtime is a luxury, but few of us treat it that way. Instead, we fill stillness with activity: Five minutes of staring into space turns into five minutes of scrolling through email.
In theory, we love breaks, those glorious gaps that whisper … unwind
. We're just not very good at seizing them.
It's easy to understand why. Try to do nothing for a few minutes. If you're anything like me, you'll get antsy: compelled to tick something off your to-do list or eager to seek a diversion that delivers dopamine.
“People often resist free time due to the misplaced belief that being productive means doing more work and resting less,” says Uma Sanghvi
, a mind-body coach based in Austin, Texas. “I like to tell my clients that the rest is
the work. If you want to be more productive, take more breaks.
Mother Nature is the perfect model for productivity. Consider spring, the season. “It's a riot of color and fresh energy, lush and joyful,” Sanghvi says. “And yet, the miracle that gives birth to spring is winter. Why? Because deep rest comes before profound productivity.”
Fortunately, downtime-avoidance is preventable. Here are several approaches from Sanghvi to help you overcome your resistance to resting.
1. Consider the long view.
“At the end of your life, you’re not going to look back and say to yourself, Thank goodness I wrote twice as many reports for my boss than anyone else!
Or, Thank goodness I spent all that time on Facebook!
” Sanghvi offers. “You’re going to think: I’m so glad I loved well. I’m so glad I ate ice cream and took sunny walks in the park. I’m so glad I took the time to enjoy being here.
2. Transition slowly.
On a typical day, your mind might be like a car going 100 miles an hour. “What’s the best way to bring this car to a full stop? The answer is slowly, very slowly,” Sanghvi says. “Similarly, you can’t go from stress-mode to zen-mode in the blink of an eye. If you try, you will be very uncomfortable—kind of like being in a car when the brakes slam on.”
Instead, take your “car” down to 80 miles per hour, then 50, Sanghvi suggests. “Do things that are progressively more relaxing.” That might look like taking a walk
without your phone or breathing slowly while you prepare dinner—before going into full relaxation mode.
3. Come home to yourself.
“Busyness is the perfect distraction,” Sanghvi says. “We get so engrossed in the drama of the outside world that we can completely forget the drama going on inside ourselves.”
When we finally do slow down
, uncomfortable feelings like irritation, grief, disappointment, anxiety and loneliness might surface.
“The good news is that letting these painful feelings bubble up is not only safe—it’s actually incredibly healthy,” she says. “Emotions are energy in motion and don’t like to be trapped or frozen. All they want is your sincere presence, so that they can move up and out.”
Remind yourself that it’s safe to spend time with you and any feelings that might be stuck in you, Sanghvi says. “And if you’re dealing with particularly challenging emotions, the best thing to do is to process them with the help of a compassionate therapist, coach or healer.”
Mitra Malek is a longtime news journalist and former Yoga Journal editor who writes about wellness.