The benefits of doing nothing

By Gill South

Kick back, grab a coffee and a book and chill out to get the best of your weekend, says Gill South.

Ignore the balmy weather by snuggling up indoors with a good book at hand. Photo / Thinkstock
Ignore the balmy weather by snuggling up indoors with a good book at hand. Photo / Thinkstock

If you are waking up this morning with a packed schedule and a to-do list as long as your arm, tear up that list at once and go back to bed. Sunday is about mooching around, there should be no have-tos.

How many of us do nothing on Sundays, taking the time to undo all the stress and tension from the week? A lot of people who are busy during the week just continue right through the weekend, peppering the so-called break from work with numerous engagements.

Constant work and no breaks will lead to health problems, just in case you thought you could get away with it.

Dr Frances Pitsilis, a specialist in stress-related illness, understands that some people find it hard to wind down on the weekend. The self-confessed workaholic says those people should "actively schedule" some down time otherwise it won't happen.

"At least 50 per cent of people are stressed," Pitsilis says. "We are on a treadmill.

We have forgotten what it's like to be normal, we don't recognise our signals to rest."

Pitsilis believes the most important thing is that you have a break from all the stuff that gets at you during the week, the small hassles you combat every day, like traffic jams and a slow computer.

"They are little things in the greater context of life, but they chip away at you. And things that go on and on are more powerful than one big crisis," she says.

She advises taking some time to "be with yourself". "So many people are frightened of that," she says. "You could listen to music, do some breathing, some yoga - any meditative act has a powerful effect on the immune system."

Of course, one of the warning signs of stress is sleep-deprivation. A Sunday nap is a good idea if you have trouble sleeping in, and if you are in need of sleep it shouldn't affect your sleep that night, says Pitsilis.

The adage that a change is as good as a rest works for busy people. She goes to a piano lesson on Sundays and will often have lunch with friends.

"It's good to socialise. Cultivating friendships is good for people. What happens when you hook up with people is you are getting support," she says.

Having time to yourself can be good for the creative juices, says Pitsilis. She has resolved to take Wednesdays off every week and, when she doesn't have work on Saturday, she will have the Friday off, too, so she has a long weekend.

"I recognise the value of that. When I am resting I am working on, not in, my business. For people who are self-employed, we lower our productivity when we work too much," she says.

Alexander Technique teacher, Jann McMichael is another strong advocate of stopping unhealthy patterns, such as working without a break. "Tension, stress; there is growing concern that our daily lives are being overrun with too much to do, causing underlying, and eventually habitual, strain," McMichael says. "This, then, becomes a way of life and we don't notice that when we want to take time out to do nothing, our very core is still running, frantic; and we take it to bed at night, too."

McMichael suggests finding ways to enjoy your life every day. "Then, when you have time off to do nothing, you will really be doing 'no thing' with every part of your being and the whole of you will say thank you."

Some Auckland families seem to get it. Grainne Troute has a high-pressure job as General Manager of Group Services and HR at the SkyCity Entertainment Group. After a busy working week, she and her husband Pat and their two girls, Molly and Stella, like to do as little as possible on the weekends, especially Sundays.

"It's PJs until midday, if I have anything to do with it," Troute says. "It's a habit the whole family is into, but especially myself and the girls.

"I think it is an important opportunity for all of us to 'decompress' by doing as little as possible for one morning a week."

"It's a stark contrast to weekday mornings when it's all about making lunches, uniforms, sports gear and the mad dash to get everyone to school and work on time. And even the other, more social time on weekends - while it's fun, it still takes energy. Sunday mornings take zero energy and that's the way I like it."

Barry Coates, executive director of Oxfam, is another Aucklander with the right idea. He and his wife Ros travel extensively for work and their weekends together at home with their twin girls are precious.

"We both travel so much, our lazy Sunday afternoons are about regaining a sense of place and where we are, being with the family," says Coates. "It's about making sure that we have quiet time to re-bond as a family. We try not to schedule too much on Sundays, it's about family down-time."

"We have a longer lunch, we kick back a bit. One of the things that I like is just pottering around the vege garden, doing a few things. It helps clear your head, you get your hands dirty, you feel good about growing things," he says.

Sometimes life can make the decision for you to slow down.

Galia BarHava-Monteith, co-founder of Professionelle.co.nz and an executive coach, was a busy woman until she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of an auto-immune disease late last year. After an intensive but ultimately successful treatment regime she is now in remission and leading a much quieter life.

When she is feeling well enough again, BarHava-Monteith does not intend stepping things up.

"I have learned that everything requires reflection," she says. BarHava-Monteith has invested in cocooning at home this winter, buying the kids a foosball table and a new TV. "We lie in bed together on Sundays, reading," she adds.

The family can now be found at home most Sundays and they say their social life is still excellent but it's low-key. Friends drop in all the time but it's casual, she says.

Barhava-Monteith has written an article about the busyness of life, on Professionelle.co.nz. It's titled, "Is being 'BUSY' the new must-have status symbol?" She says there is a certain pride in having frantically social weekends and busy working weeks.

"Busyness leads to a lack of thinking. Busy people just take on more stuff. Being busy disguises everything else, it gives them a sense of worth. People think: 'I'm busy because I'm important, I'm busy because I'm so popular'."

"A lot of it is about not being able to say no, not stopping to think about the need to recover from the week," she says. She compares it to the lack of sleep a lot of people are suffering from. "Sundays have become commoditised, like sleep," she says.

Lisa Markwick, a leadership psychologist with Mindful Adventures, thinks people should establish "rest rituals" on the weekend. This doesn't have to be sitting quietly. A rest ritual for her is going for a run.

She thinks change is as good as a rest, too.

"I am very determined about having interests that complement, but are not the same as, those during the week. It might be running in a forest, seeing friends, having dinner, things that are aligned but access a different part of myself."

Give yourself permission to lavish time on the Sunday papers, recognising that while you might well be doing nothing, this is "food for the soul", she says. "Really ask yourself the question, what gives me life in terms of energy and what drains me?"

Markwick is concerned for those not taking these pauses. She asks, when does the brain have a chance to recover from the week?

Do things one at a time, she suggests. "It's pausing the gaggle that goes on in your head."

On a walk to my local shops the other weekend I passed the house of some friends, Charlotte Voogd and Niels Nieuwenhuizen. They were sitting outside in comfy chairs enjoying the winter sun, watching the world go by. I was so impressed. They were just sitting, doing nothing.

Voogd, the mother of two boys, tells me: "We do it all the time, and not just on Sundays.

"Some days we come home from work for a lunch break and have our coffee outside. It is our way of having some private time away from noisy boys and to enjoy the sunshine.

"And coffee tastes so much better in the open air."

New resolutions for Sundays

* Read the Sunday papers in one sitting - have a marathon and revel in it.

* Let the children get bored, it's good for their creative juices.

* Find a new favourite part of the house or garden to sit in and commune with yourself.

* Have lunch with good friends but plan nothing else in the day.

* Take an afternoon nap if sleeping in is too hard.

* Don't check work emails and put the mobile/iPhone/BlackBerry in the breadbin.

* Get stuck into a book.

* Leave the car in the garage for the day. Use only bikes or walking.

* Make a phone call to a good, long-distance friend.

* Don't feel guilty about doing nothing - it's healthy, and a healthier you will be better for your family.

- NZ Herald

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