Is a little bit of boredom good for our brains/mental health? Why? Why not?

Yes! We have become so used to constant activity and stimulation that many of us fear boredom and see it entirely as a negative thing. Yet our physiology needs it – our nervous systems need time to ‘rest and digest’ and our brains integrate the activity of the day when we sleep.

We know that taking time out to relax and even focus on doing nothing via mindfulness / meditation is really healthy for our daily routine. It keeps us centred and able to be in the present moment. This breaks the cycle of anxiety/ rumination about things that happened in the past – or planning/worrying about the future, which is great for our mental health.
So learning to invite the quiet moments and make peace with having no stimulation is a really healthy thing. Often our best ideas come when our brains are quiet – and there’s even been some research suggesting that procrastinating can be a positive part of any creative process. So learning to embrace the idea of being “busy doing nothing” (as the old Bing Crosby song says) is a great idea!

What should we be doing over the Christmas period to make the most of this bored, restful period and benefit our minds?
Embrace doing less! This is the classic opportunity for us to re-frame and re-set our approach to boredom and rest. I call it ‘enough’ and it’s when we stop worrying about what we should be doing, we move away from focusing on the fear of not doing enough, or the overwhelm of having too much, and really embrace the present moment. I recommend becoming really conscious and intentional about what we are doing to rest – especially for those of us who are in the habit of leading busy lives. Being busy can be addictive, so learning how to slow down needs conscious effort. I always love to read my novel for an hour or two in the mornings over Christmas – for me, this feels like a luxury and I know that it slows me down. I really see this as giving yourself the gift of calm over Christmas. Whether it’s half an hour to reflect, or just to sit with a cup of tea with no intention at all – it’s such a healthy re-set. It’s absolutely about being not doing – and it really is enough!

Is there anything we shouldn’t be doing?
Well, I’m wary of making ‘doing nothing’ sound like a ‘to do list’ (oh the irony!) but I guess I would say – let’s try and give ourselves a holiday from worrying, planning and getting caught up in habitual busy-ness. I love the idea of ‘wintering’ and hibernating. We don’t get much time in our lives for this – and I always find Twixtmas is the perfect time for this.

How can we let go of the guilt around doing nothing? 
By remembering that it is good for us. Guilt usually comes from being loyal to a person or idea that we’ve held for a long time. I love the idea that ‘there’s no growth without guilt’ – meaning, that we sometimes have to let go of old embedded, familiar ways of being which can feel difficult or even make us feel guilty. But when we do, we give ourselves the chance to do things a little differently – as WE want to. It’s about getting clear about what we really want and need to lead the lives we want to – as opposed to blindly following the familiar patterns that we’ve got.

First published in Stylist magazine.

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