Life can be stressful, and we all need to take some time to relax and give our brain a break from activity so that it can recharge. When we do get some unplanned free time, there are plenty of activities we could choose to fill the gap.
One of the best things you could do is spend your time on something that brings you joy or fulfills one of your passions. When you have these moments in life – when you’re able to pursue what makes your soul sing – then life feels more satisfying and fulfilling.
For example, after a busy week I woke up Saturday with no agenda and nothing pressing that needed to be done. This is something that doesn’t happen often as I usually have multiple things I want to get done in a day and many of my projects run from one day to the next.
So to have a Saturday where I had things to do, but they weren’t immediate and I could take my time getting them done (i.e. they didn’t need to get done that day) was a great treat. At least it seemed like it should be. But it actually created a feeling of panic in me.
In the moment I started to feel my anxiety rise, I started to pay attention to my thoughts. In paying attention to my feeling and thought that caused the feeling I realized that my thought was based on my fear that I would be bored or end up spending the day wasting time.
Simply giving myself the space between my thought and the feeling it created gave me the chance to consider that there are many things I enjoy doing, so being bored wasn’t a possibility. That eased my feeling of fear. My next thought was that if I simply followed my morning routine, I wouldn’t spend the day wasting time.
As I do every day, I started out the morning journaling for about 30 minutes. Writing about things that had happened the day before and setting my intention for the day ahead. In just a few minutes of journaling, I knew I wanted to spend time doing the things that I love.
I decided a walk would be the first thing on my agenda and asked my husband and foster son to join me on my walk so that I could spend quality time with them while also getting out in nature and doing something good for my body.
After the walk, I spent a few hours on my creative projects. The first being stopping by the farmers market to pick up delicious pastries from a local artisan bakery and fresh produce for the weekend. Then it was back home to research recipes and use up the 15+ pounds of pears our neighbors shared with us. Because my passion is cooking.
Years ago I read a book that shifted my thoughts on being busy and saw that not being busy is essential to living our best lives. In fact when we allow ourselves time to unwind and let our mind wander, we are more creative in our problem solving. Years of research have shown that regular periods where we are relaxed and engaged in daydreaming and activities that bring us joy – give us the mental break we need to continue to develop to our fullest potential, while also relieving stress, reducing anxiety, and depression.
Simply taking a break and doing something you enjoy can make all the difference in your life on a mental, physical, and emotional level. It also boosts your creativity which adds depth to your life and brings you greater satisfaction because when you’re doing what you’re passionate about – you lose track of time, reconnecting with who you are, and what matters to you.
In fact taking a daydreaming break or doing an activity where you are in flow can actually help you solve problems that seem like they can’t be solved, when you are immersed in the hustle and bustle of your daily life.
“There seems to be a particularly elaborate electrical conversation between the front and back parts of the brain…areas that don’t normally interact directly; they have different functions and are part of distinct neural pathways. It’s not until we start to daydream that they begin to work closely together.
All of this mental activity comes with a very particular purpose. Instead of responding to the outside world, the brain starts to explore its inner database, searching for relationships in a more relaxed fashion.” (Lehrer, 2012, p. 46)
It’s when our mind is in this state that we become more creative and can solve problems, because we are relaxed. When we daydream our brains blend together concepts that are normally in different areas of the brain. When we daydream we are able to notice new connections that we normally overlook and we are much more effective in our problem solving because we can see things in new ways.
I have found for myself when I’m doing something I’m passionate about, like cooking I have a similar experience. I get immersed in the experience, my mind is at rest, and I make connections that I don’t make when I’m stressed or engaged in activities that require my full attention in the moment.
I encourage you to give it a shot. Take out time each day to do something you enjoy but doesn’t require a great deal of mental thought. This could be walking, reading, meditating, gardening, drawing, painting, yard work, daydreaming, doodling, etc. It can’t include watching television or browsing social media. Those activities don’t relax you in a way where you’re alert, but still relaxed.
Try out activities where you are able to let your mind wander for a week or two and see what results you see in your problem solving abilities, as well as improvements in your mental and physical health. Then be prepared to be amazed by how much simply relaxing and doing something you enjoy is much more productive than staying busy.
Lehrer, J. (2012). IMAGINE: How creativity works. Houghton Mifflin