If you’re like me, you feel a constant need to be doing, doing, doing. Working, improving, building, working out, consuming, investing, hustling, grinding.
The antidote to this anxiety is, go figure, not doing. Meditating, going for a walk, resting, doing yoga, journaling, making art. Doing anything that allows the mind to slow down and the body to relax.
Not vegging out watching Netflix. Not numbing out with a glass of wine. (Though, there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing either.)
Actually resting means relaxing the nervous system
Not doing is slowing the mind and relaxing the body enough to simply be with what’s actually happening in the moment. It’s getting out of your head and into sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings. It’s living fully.
When the mind is slow and body relaxed, the nervous system — the connection between the brain and spine that manages stress — can calm down.
When the nervous system is calm, our heart rate eases and muscles relax even more. We’re less on edge and more in the moment. We experience the moment just as it is, not what our mind says it should be.
That’s why it’s important to have a daily practice of some kind. It might be 20 minutes of meditation in the morning or an aimless walk after lunch. (Research shows that spending 20 minutes outside three times a week has the greatest effect on reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.)
Even pausing and taking three deep breathes a few times a day can be enough to take the edge off.
The key is to stop doing. Put down the phone, notice the sounds around you, feel your feet on the ground, and soften your muscles — especially around your eyes, the back of your neck, and your abs.
Be with what is actually happening in the moment — not lost in thought about your to-do list or what so-and-so thinks of you.
Of course, your mind won’t stop thinking. You’re still going to worry about responding to that passive aggressive text or what to eat for dinner or how you’re going to make rent this month.
But instead of worrying yourself into more tension or distracting yourself in the ways you normally do, let go of doing.
Bring your attention back to how your breath feels and your feet on the ground. Let go, and then let go again. If you’re outside, notice the wind in the trees and the smell of flowers.
You have a hard time resting because of capitalism
I know it’s hard to not do. “We live in a culture that celebrates activity,” writes the Buddhist teacher Roshi Joan Halifax.
The public performance of busyness is how we demonstrate to one another that we are important. The more people see us tired, over-stretched, the more they think we must be somehow indispensable. That we matter.
In a capitalist society, a full-time job is required to survive — sometimes even two! Constant growth in the stock market and corporate profits is the number one priority.
We think we have to hustle to keep up. And we think that if we don’t keep up, we’ll be left behind to feel lonely, unhappy, and unfulfilled.
Because of all of this go-go-go energy, we feel anxiety about slowing down and not doing. But here’s the thing: Taking time to rest allows you to move through the rest of your day more effectively and with more intention.
Meditation not only reduces stress, but it also manages anxiety, boosts self-awareness, lengthens the attention span, reduces memory loss, and more. When we’re in nature, our brains enter a mode called “soft fascination,” which restores and builds the resources we need to think, create, process information, and execute tasks.
So, stop pretending that vegging out while watching Netflix and scrolling Instagram is relaxing.
In today’s distracted world, you actually have to put effort into getting enough rest. You have to actively not do.
Hi, I’m Jeremy, a writer, meditation teacher, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. Subscribe to my weekly email on how to be more mindful at your job, in your relationships, and when it comes to politics here.
Photo by ☼☼Jo Zimny!☼☼.