Avoid the emerging sickness of busyness by learning the art of doing nothing

Most of us love to be busy. We enjoy being very busy, even if it adversely affects our health. Some have no alternative other than to be too busy because it’s linked to their livelihood. This is true especially for the economically weaker sector of society. However, for many others, frenetic activity is a sign of success or being rich and famous. How busy one wishes to be in their work and play is generally under their control. Many are overly busy only because of poor time management. They enjoy – or are more often oblivious to — wasting or mismanaging their time. They want others to perceive them as busy people who are much in demand; they do not wish to give the impression of laziness or unimportance. If many people are waiting outside a clinic, people may not be able to see a famous and successful doctor. Of course this is mainly in the context of India. Oh, I have no time; too busy even to die; I haven’t gone on vocation in five years; I don’t take leave from my office, are some of the common phrases we often hear from others.

The Art of Doing Nothing, not even in ‘thinking mode’ – Dutch people earmark certain time to practice it in their busy schedule

We are living in a highly materialistic world where the yardstick for success measures the wealth we have, the status we’ve achieved, and the power we enjoy in society. Somehow we take busyness as a positive personal attribute and symbol of leading a good life. It’s linked with our personal development and self-worth. Simply being busy is not a problem, but when busyness expresses as chronic stress, it becomes a serious issue. There is a direct relationship between busyness and stress. At a certain threshold, outer busyness is felt inwardly as chronic stress. There is little difference between active life, busy life and stressful life. All overlap.

When we suffer from chronic stress or chronic busyness, many symptoms starts appearing. Under mild conditions, we experience fatigue, irritability, irregular sleep, headache, and disturbances in bowel function. However, when we experience chronic stress, we can potentially suffer from many mental and physical problems, ranging from heart disease and cancer to disorders of the digestive and immune system. The list is exhaustive. Studies have shown that premature or early death is more likely when stress is ongoing. Most of the time, people will not realize that the problems they have started experiencing in their body are due to chronic stress conditions. Suppose someone is gaining weight or having a rise in their sugar level. Chances are that person may be under chronic stress. Unfortunately, doctors tend to prescribe medication for those illnesses rather than advising the person to manage stress.

Managing stress is not an easy thing; it calls for a change in our mind-set. We should first be convinced that excessive busyness is detrimental to our health. Chronic stress is nothing but busyness beyond our tolerance limit. Without self-awareness, it’s extremely difficult to handle such a situation. But with proper time management and prioritisation of work, we can handle busyness to a great extent. We must better recognize the need for and the importance of tasks at hand. More importantly, we must learn to do less, or even at times to do nothing. Doing nothing is far more difficult than doing something. When we have other things to do, even if they are unproductive or wasteful, doing nothing becomes all the more difficult a task. Sitting all alone in a room and observing our own stream of thoughts or our breathing is a dreadful prospect or experience for some people. Many are afraid of facing their own thoughts. So to avoid such situations, we keep ourselves busy, unaware of the difference between busyness and chronic stress.

“Doing nothing” doesn’t mean that we sit quietly in a room and go into contemplative mode. We are not required to think or start analysing or imagining things. What we do need is to go beyond the incessant stream of thoughts. We should observe our thoughts, let them come and go. Just be aware of those thoughts. We shouldn’t pass judgment on them, nor assign any meaning to them; all that’s needed is plain awareness of thoughts. This is nothing but mindfulness meditation. Not only do we grow increasingly aware of ourselves, but in so doing we become more adept at managing our stress level. The best thing that we can do is to start practicing mindfulness in our day-to-day life. When we become focused, attentive, and start living more in the present, our stress will automatically decrease.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch people practice a lifestyle concept called Niksen, which means doing nothing. Niksen is promoting the art of really switching off, doing nothing, and taking time for oneself. It literally means “doing nothing,” or to be idle or to do something without any utility. During mindfulness meditation, we are required to observe our own stream of thoughts and be present in the moments at hand. However, in the Netherlands, Niksen enthusiaststake time out to sit quietly and observe the surrounding environment. They might listen to music or lose themselves in thought; a long walk in their neighbourhood or a pretty forest is a popular choice. People can simply relax in a dark room. Now growing popular in other parts of the world, Niksen has proven to be an effective remedy for stress and anxiety.