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Doing Nothing Can Enhance Mental Health
By Judy Kneiszel

Burnout, anxiety, stress, and depression. These words are heard with alarming frequency. And so are comments about overwhelming busyness, to-do lists, and constant connectivity.  

Maybe it’s time to embrace the Italian expression, “il dolce far niente,” which means “the sweetness of doing nothing.”  
  

Research shows that eliminating distractions, taking time to do nothing, and even daydreaming can improve mental health, productivity, and creativity. Specifically, the mental health benefits of doing nothing, include: 
  1. Improved problem-solving skills: Breaks help people think logically and make decisions. 
  1. Greater creativity: A wandering mind is more likely to produce an innovative idea. Remember, Sir Isaac Newton’s theory about gravity was inspired by leisurely observing an apple tree, not in a department meeting. 
  1. Improved ability to learn: Taking a break gives the brain time to process, consolidate, and store information. 
  1. Increased productivity: A study in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that prolonged mental work is depleting, but taking breaks improves concentration and attention, making people more efficient and productive when they return to a task. 
  1. An attitude of kindness: Taking time for reflection can inspire a person to look beyond personal needs and instead find ways to help others. 
  1. A happier mood: Everyone can feel overwhelmed by work and family responsibilities. But resting the mind can help a person regulate emotions and recharge.  
Ways to embrace “Il dolce far niente” 
  • Don’t get up the second the alarm goes off. Take a few extra minutes in the morning to just lie in bed and just be. 
  • Appreciate small pleasures throughout the day. Instead of gulping down a cup of coffee or tea, consider the shape and color of the mug and feel the warmth it brings to your hands. Take a sip and enjoy the flavor, and the moment.  
  • Go outside. Visit a park or sit in the backyard to enjoy the sun, smell the flowers, and listen to the sounds of the birds. 
  • Seek out water. Spend time near a lake, river, or ocean. Being near water can open your mind and senses. 
  • Go to the woods. A walk through the trees can make a person feel a part of nature. 
  • Rest on the couch and do nothing. This can be done in silence or while listening to beautiful music. 
  • Meditate. This can be as simple as breathing deeply while trying to keep your mind blank. 
  • Focus on enjoying vacation time. Disconnect from work and the outside world. Concentrate on enjoying the downtime rather than pressuring yourself to see and do it all. 
  • Sleep more without guilt. Sleep is vital to health and happiness. Don’t be critical of yourself for sleeping in. Getting the sleep you need for your mind and body to function optimally is not being “lazy.”   
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