– Or: “All work and no play” is actually a recipe for a meltdown

Down time.  It’s something so many of us think about on the regular.  Need some down time.  Need to chill out, recharge, relax.  The need for our brain to send efferent impulses to the rest of the body to “take a chill pill.”  The whole kit ‘n kaboodle.

In reality, there’s a whole lot of scientific study surrounding the need to give our daily rider (read: US) the opportunity to just …. reset.  Studies concerning the long term impact of grinding without end.  How ignoring that need impacts our ability to effulge positive energy and proceed through life on a path of fewer soul-jarring speed bumps.

There are challenges  regarding this entire concept  The efficacy of downtime is contingent on both carving out the time to do it and then the effort necessary to do it right.

“But wait, George,” you’re probably saying, ” what do you mean do it right?  Don’t I just need to chill out on the couch and let Netflix do all the heavy lifting?”  To which I would respond “Just keep reading, I’ll get to that in a minute.  See above?  Take that chill pill.”

So let’s dive into how down time can have an effect on our overall health and wellbeing!  How the efflorescence of brain and body regeneration can make a significant difference in our lives overall.  More namby pamby words and things!  You get where I’m going with this.

Important acknowledgement: it’s vital to point out that down time is sometimes neither easy nor possible.  I’ve been stewing over a whole other topic regarding the notion of “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and just how much first world stuff goes into a statement like that. Total societal effluent and sludge for someone holding down three jobs and trying to keep their family afloat.  But that’s not today.

How do we define down time

The short version; giving the brain a chance to just stop overprocessing and instead just plain rest.

The long version is just more words describing the above.  That’s how this whole thing works. Reducing brain stimulation is the goal of what it is that we are talking about.  This can be different from person to person in terms of methods and the level of difficulty varies wildly.  The removal of stimuli is a very key component in every study that involves exactly what the definition of down time is.

Also! I’d like to get into the value of NAP TIME because there are SO many studies on the benefits of structured naptime during a day.  Unfortunately there are only so many words that I can force ya’ll to read so we’re just going to make that a footnote.  Also, naps rule.

An article in Scientific American goes into a SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF DETAIL that I can’t even begin to try and quote entirely here.  I encourage you to head over there and give it a read if it’s something you’re interested in really deep diving into.  There’s a ton to absorb!

Benefits of down time

Down time actually increases productivity.  Believe it or not.  (although I recommend believe it)   There is a significant amount of research that shows that taking mental breaks will actually bring you back refreshed in a way that makes you more productive than if you had powered through it.  Our productivity is increased on an overall basis when we make sure to try and alternate between hyper focus and occasional renewal.  Wild, isn’t it?

For creatives, it can create an explosion of ideas.  You could say that productivity is productivity, regardless of if it is a work environment or a creative environment.  I know from my own experience that trying to plow through the creative process of writing music that if I get stuck on something, the best possible thing to do when stuck is go somewhere else and do something completely unrelated.  Almost every time I come back fresh and bust through that block.

It can dramatically increase our mental and physical health.  Obviously sleep is one of those components in keeping our minds and bodies in better shape, but in similar studies as noted above, occasional down time sessions can give our moods a boost along with productivity and creativity.  Better moods make us feel better (amazing, isn’t it?) which in turn makes our bodies work better and probably rubs off on the people around us.  Relationships can actually benefit dramatically from us actually taking the time to take care of ourselves.

It’s like on the airplane.  You put your own mask on before assisting someone else with theirs.  Or something to that effect.

What we currently do to sabotage our down time

Sometimes we do things that we think are giving our brains the opportunity to conk out.  Dr. Scott Bea has many things to say about the things that we think we’re doing for down time that are not in actuality down time.

Here are some examples:

  • Putting together a puzzle
  • Ye olde nature walk
  • Watching television (or I guess in this day and age, YouTube/Netflix/Hulu/uhh any one of the 9,007 different streaming services available now. aren’t we glad we cut the cord?)
  • Reading a book (yes, really)
  • Doom scrolling on social media (I mean, this should go without saying but here we are)

So many more examples.  What do all of those things above have in common?  Brain stimulation.  All of them.  Even the book!

So then what are we supposed to do Mr. Bald Guy?

How about this: try going full monk.  No, not Tony Shalhoub. Monastic.  Find a way to focus inward.

Stare at nothing.

Zone out.  Pick a spot on the wall and just look at it without analyzing it.

Let your mind wander freely.  Go inward.

For some this involves napping.  (see above on NAPPING).  For others this could be structured meditation.  For yet others it could be like above: stare at nothing for a period of time and just let the brain wander where it will go without trying too hard to guide it.

I also feel a bit like a hypocrite in all of this discussion because I’m really bad at doing any of these things.  One of my goals in broaching this subject is actually learning some of the things that we can do to try and benefit from down time.  It’s amazing the things we can accomplish when we learn about something and then share it right away.  That is probably another blog topic for another time too, now that I’m thinking about it ….

How do we accomplish this wild and crazy down time notion?

Can this work on a spontaneous basis?  Sure it can!


Relying solely on whenever the stars align in just the right way where you can see the shadow of Mars gently glide over the big red storm on Jupiter isn’t going to get you to a space that you might like to be.  So here are a few things to throw down as possible ways to make this happen.

Schedule it!  Yup.  You heard me.  Structure a time slot for this kind of non-activity.  Sometimes this is difficult to do when you’re in the thick of All Of The Things and there’s just nowhere to squeeze it in.  I know that feeling too.  But take a look at your jam packed schedule and see if there’s a small slot that you might be able to work it in.  Maybe even well in advance as a calendar item that is blocked out that cannot be booked over.  Boundaries and all.

Leave your devices in another room and/or put them in Do Not Disturb mode.  Nothing good can come from interrupting brain wander and introspection with the notifications that already occupy our entire days.  They are a part of our every day lives and a constant reminder of the things that we’re supposed to be doing or wanting to look at or a stimulus train wreck from time to time.

And finally, try to allow for those spontaneous opportunities that we talked about above.  If this is what your brain and body are telling you, listen to them.  They know stuff and things.  They’ll thank you for it.  They will also eventually punish you if you do not do their bidding.  Buncha taskmasters, those brains and bodies.  Seriously.  Sheesh

Conclusionary statement of finality

So let’s take the whole notion of burn-out and inappropriate sacrifice and burn it in effigy. Like, seriously.  There’s an effeir and appropriate time and a place for all things hard work.  An effete and completely drained spirit isn’t any good to anyone; not you, not the people around you.  In short – after a whole lot of long – please do try to take care of yourself.  You might thank yourself for it later and the people around you might not but you’ll be in the know.

Until next time!

-= george =-



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About the Author

Straddling the line between the arts - voiceover, music composition, session performer, album mixing - and the world of durable medical equipment. Probably should have spent more time playing on the balance beam as a kid instead of obsessing over Commodore 64 games.

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