The Lowdown on Downtime

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Katrina Thorpe discovers the importance of downtime – and how to achieve it.

It’s not what you think, it’s when you don’t think. Do you spend time completely alone, silent with your own thoughts? Letting your mind drift, daydream or wander with no outcome, agenda or purpose?

Downtime is not time-out, where you might be scrolling social media, listening to a podcast, or half-watching something on TV.

Much the same as your body, where muscles need rest to recover, the mind also needs regular breaks and time off during the day.

Downtime for the mind can help uplift your mood, and your ability to concentrate.

Whereas not taking mind breaks can contribute to burnout, fatigue, stress and health issues that can develop from an overactive mind can also impact the body.

Have you heard of ‘mind wandering’?

“It’s about the brain’s default mode network”, explains Zachary Irving, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Cognitive Science at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, whose work focuses on the philosophy of mind wandering.

It’s a concept scientists are still researching, but the default mode network is thought to be the parts of the brain that activate when people aren’t thinking about anything in particular.

Research suggests it’s connected to processes like memory, self-reflection and imagination.

According to Dr Irving: “When your thoughts wander from one thing to another, it creates a passive stream, which is really distinctive of human downtime.”

It’s also considered to be connected to our emotions, creativity, problem solving and forward thinking.

When you are in the shower tends to be a great time for brain downtime as water is also very calming and cleansing for the mind. In fact, many cultures use water flowing over their head as a daily ritual for clearing the mind and body.

Downtime is a time when you can’t use a device; perhaps this is why teenagers naturally ‘de-vice’ while spending so long in the shower?

The brain needs wandering, downtime, for the default mode network, which automatically turns off whenever our brains focus on something.

Years ago, our brains had more downtime as we didn’t have devices to fill in every spare minute we had.

What counts as downtime?

Downtime only occurs when the brain isn’t engaged in, or following directions from, either your effort to focus, our emotions taking control, or an outside stimulus, like engaging on devices.

Instead, it seems that a low level of distraction is required, such as exercise, swimming, housework, art or any other activity or hobby that allows your mind to wander and practice silence while you are distracted by the activity.

Interestingly, not all meditation is considered ‘downtime.’ Some types of meditation with an emphasis on mind-wandering may meet the downtime criteria, but general forms of meditation where you focus attention – such as focus on your breath – to help control your thoughts, is not downtime.

Are you getting enough downtime?

Unlike exercise or sleep, there’s no set amount of downtime recommended by health professionals.

It’s no surprise that research has found that people with high stressors in their life tend to need more downtime, and some people naturally need less.

Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day, and if you feel constantly stressed, overwhelmed and unable to turn ‘off’, you might lack downtime.

Control the urge to fill in time with phone calls and devices, put them away.

Instead, choose to people watch; notice the weather and nature as it changes; daydream; or look out the window on the bus, train or car ride home (if not driving!). If you are driving and traffic is stressful, take note of your environment (as in the sky), or play some relaxing music rather than asking Siri to make business calls or tuning into the news.

Do what you can to leave space in your life for your brain to wander and meander, when and wherever you can.

Book in for a massage, facial, float therapy, salt cave, oxygen pod, or try water therapy such as a swim or relaxing bath at home – anywhere that allows you to be at one with your mind without a device.

Importantly, pay attention to your own mental state. Your downtime may not always be the same, nor the same as it is for others, as it depends how engaged your mind is.

Make small, easy changes to incorporate some downtime into your life and see what a difference it makes to clearing your mind and general health.

About the Author /

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With qualifications and years of experience in health, wellness, beauty, management and business, culminating in the creation of Ikatan Day Spa, Katrina has a passion for everything relating to the wellness world and loves to share her knowledge, experience and research with others. Katrina is an active member of our community with involvement in tourism and charity work.

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