The Need for Downtime

One of my favorite things to do on the weekends is curl up with a good book. Sometimes I even finish reading it, but other times, I set it down and take a nap on the couch. I awake refreshed and energized. On the weekends when I don’t do that, the following work week seems exceptionally long.

Turns out I’m doing the right thing because our brains need more downtime, and that’s according to a recent Scientific American article. “Mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity,” the article states.

Beach chair with book, sunglasses

Turns out doing nothing is good for our brains. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

A friend and I recently were semi-joking that we were concerned we were getting early onset Alzheimer’s because we kept forgetting things and couldn’t call up the right words in conversation. We both committed to getting some extra rest, and it made all the difference.

I’m still working on a better meditative process, but for now, the art of brewing tea is helpful. I don’t put the water in a mug and put it in the microwave. Instead, I fill a tea bag with loose leaf tea. I rinse my mug – carefully selected to reflect my mood – with hot water. I put the kettle on to boil, and when it whistles, I pour it over the bag and let it steep the appropriate amount of time. Only then do I sit quietly and sip my tea. The ritual slows me down.

Scheduling time off from work also is important. The same Scientific Article cited a Harris Interactive survey that Americans had an average of nine unused vacation days and this despite the fact that Americans typically have fewer vacation days. Around the New Year, I mark my calendar with all my vacation days. I try to take a few each quarter, sprinkling them in a way to give me a bit of time off each month.

Sometimes at the end of the day, I can’t seem to shut my mind down so I deliberately do something mindless – I play Bejeweled on Facebook. It serves no purpose but trying to align the gems allows mind to stop thinking about work issues or anything else that is bothering me. It’s often in those moments of playing my third or fourth (oh okay, tenth) game that I am able to suddenly solve a problem.

Taking mental breaks during the work days also is critical. One of my colleagues set a personal goal of going out once a week for lunch. For her this was a stretch goal, but really it should be every day. I used to not be good about going out to lunch. I would pack my lunch and eat at my desk but that’s not a mental break. Now a colleague and I run out and grab lunch. We’re gone 30 to 45 minutes and that time away is enough to recharge for the afternoon.

I try to move every hour even if all I’m doing is taking a lap around my floor. We have a fitness goal at work and many of us are wearing pedometers to reach 10,000 steps a day. At the elevators, are signs encouraging us to take the stairs. Exercise is a great mental break.

And don’t forget journaling and arts and crafts. Several studies demonstrate the power of journaling. The other year I made it a goal to photograph a happy thought each day. Being mindful of life’s blessings recharged me every day.

Are you creating enough downtime in your life?

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One thought on “The Need for Downtime

  1. Clara Cartrette says:

    This reminded me that I NEED more down time to rest my brain,
    and I’m starting today! Thanks for your messages!

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