I remember a lot of quiet time as a kid. Oftentimes, there was nothing to do except to daydream or just chill out while listening to music. There were no cell phones, no computers and only three tv channels to choose from. Long car rides were challenging for me, since all I could do was either talk to my parents or stare out the window and look at the cars and the landscape passing by. Interestingly, I actually concocted some of my most creative and wackiest ideas when I was spacing out in the car, but more on this later!
When I was young, there were minimal distractions. But life was good! What happened to those days?
Those “simple” days are long gone. Now we are constantly “doing;” sitting still and relaxing is unfortunately viewed as something done by those who are unmotivated. Think about the last time you asked someone how they were doing – most people answer with “I am so busy” and tell you about all the things they are doing and how overwhelmed they are. How many people answer your question by saying, “I’m doing fine – enjoying life, relaxing and not working so hard.” In our culture, if we hear the latter response, we’d likely be quick to view this person as lazy or not driven. Right?
The Negative Side of Busy
The problem with always “doing” is that we never learn to sit still. Being still and present means that we feel our whole range of emotions, which can create a feeling of discomfort, both physically and emotionally. This is all part of being human, but it feels so challenging and alien to many of us.
Why has it become so difficult for us to find stillness and do nothing? The main culprit is technology. The internet, smart phones, video games, Netflix, etc. distract us and prevent us from getting to know our true selves. These digital distractions cause us to lose touch with the present moment, and we concurrently become more isolated. Having less social contact often leads to depression and social anxiety. Human connection is essential to our overall wellbeing, and so many people are losing out by being over-connected with technology and lacking face to face contact with others.
What We Gain in Stillness
Being still and present helps us combat depression, stress and anxiety. As our minds and bodies wander and rest, we not only feel more relaxed, but we also create space to look inward and come up with creative ideas. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, spends two weeks in the forest alone every year. Described as his “think weeks,” Gates “…separate[s] from civilization and ponder[s] the future of technology…these weeks function as Gates’ way to think of new ideas, apart from distractions and noise.” Bill Gates definitely gets it! His ability to disconnect certainly contributes to his overall success.
In addition to sparking creativity, the practice of being still and looking inward strengthens the relationship we have with ourselves. It is in stillness that we get to know ourselves. When we’re always busy, we lose touch with who we truly are on the inside, and the more we avoid being with ourselves, the more alienated we feel from our true selves. When we are more present and in touch with our thoughts and feelings, we get to know ourselves in a deeper way. We have the space to be more insightful while exploring our values, desires and feelings. Not only does this practice improve our relationship with ourselves, it enhances our connections with others.
The following are seven steps to feeling more relaxed, creative and connected. Try these methods of deepening your relationship with yourself and with others:
- Put all of your technological devices away for an hour each day.
- Do something you love for an hour a day – whether that means expressing your creativity, practicing yoga, reading or another form of release.
- Go to a café and observe your surroundings. Leave your phone and computer at home. It can be so fun and freeing to just sit and people watch.
- Draw, doodle or pick up a pen and paper and do some journaling. Write what you’re feeling, or explore your creative side. Let your mind wander.
- Take time to see friends. Be present when you are with them; leave your phone in your pocket or purse. Relax and enjoy the conversation.
- Practice mindful movement – find some kind of joyous movement that helps you feel more connected to your mind and body.
- Practice meditating for at least 10 minutes per day. If you need an app to guide you, try Headspace, Calm or Stop Breathe and Think.
Taking the time to sit still and look inward has multiple benefits. It may seem challenging at first, but taking a break from the distractions in our lives will not only reduce stress and anxiety, it will enrich your life. You might even try tuning out when you are a passenger in the car, as I did when I was a kid. Who knows, you might come up with some wacky, creative and lucrative ideas.
I encourage you to take my “stillness” challenge. Select one of the steps above and practice it each day for a week. Jot down how you feel each time when you complete the challenge. The following week, pick and try out a new challenge, and continue to record how you feel. My bet is that you will feel calmer, more creative and more connected as you incorporate the steps above into your life.
As always, please feel free to email me with questions, concerns, or comments. I welcome a visit with you to discuss further! Contact me for an appointment here.
Karen Chinca is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) with over fifteen years of experience working with adults and families. Karen’s specialties include treating anxiety and panic disorders, eating disorders, OCD, and trauma. Karen incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, internal family systems and mindfulness into her practice.