In the era of idolising hustle culture, the deliberate action of “doing nothing” can be bewildering. Culturally, we’ve begun to acknowledge that “rise and grind” is a clever way to rebrand “surviving the rat race”, and yet in the face of burnout and and digital overwhelm, we still do the same stuff, over and over.
Ditching the faux-positive attitudes of toxic work culture for Mental Health Week, we wanted to explore the health benefits of deliberate rest and why it matters. Seeking advice from Collarts’ Wellbeing Practitioner Garrett Teters, here’s how you can master the art of nothing.
Schedule time for nothing, and do aimlessness with purpose.
It’s an earth-shattering moment when you realise that your drive to work harder, stronger, and faster is a symptom of capitalism, not self-fulfilment.
‘Society values making money, so in turn we value working or doing well in school', says Garrett, explaining why people struggle to find time to switch-off. ‘Theres’s a value conversation happening. If something’s valuable to us, we require it. What we don’t realise is that productivity and rest work together'.
When it comes to finding time to do nothing, Garrett recommends scheduling self-imposed "time off" to properly decompress and make R&R feel a little more natural.
‘You’ve got to be scheduled', he notes. ‘It’s good to actually write down and be specific when you plan on doing nothing. It can be as little as 10 minutes daily, but make it a real and meaningful commitment to yourself'.
Resist the culture of constant productivity and let go of any guilty feelings.
Taking time to do nothing may feel indulgent compared to your hectic study or work-week pace, but don’t feel guilty: taking a break is crucial for our physical and mental health, and should be an essential part of your self-care.
According to Stephanie Benjamin, MD, a California-based emergency medicine services physician, overworking triggers the secretion of the steroid hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands, which can lead to chronic stress that disrupts your body’s processes.
‘A burst of cortisol readies the body to fight or flee from a dangerous situation’, she notes in an article for shondaland. ‘The less rest you have, the more your stress levels and health can spiral out of control'.
Understanding this physiological response, Garrett wants you to see the value in the “negative space” doing nothing creates. ‘To create an artistic analogy, stuff on a canvas exists only if there’s negative space. We have so much going on in our brain and lives, that we don’t leave much room for this nothingness'.
'The key is to disconnect and be mindful of the present moment', he continues. 'Close your computer, turn off your phone, go out for a stroll—whatever allows you to create that space. Just get in touch with you and don’t feel bad about checking-in on yourself'.
Step back and prioritise what's important.
In today’s world, we’re accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with little chance to switch off all distractions. This fact, combined with FOMO—the fear of missing out—jumbles and commodifies our sense of time (and in turn, encourages us to turn every hobby or interest into a capitalist pursuit).
'Being always on can create a constant sense of anxiety and like there is always something we should be doing', explains Alice Boyes, Ph.D., author of The Anxiety Toolkit and The Healthy Mind Toolkit in an article on hustle culture for Thrive. 'It’s easy to feel that at any moment, you’re missing out on capitalising on an opportunity and therefore falling behind your competitors or peers'.
But that only begs the question: how do you really learn the art of nothing, especially when trying to find work-life-success balance? Practice, of course, explains Garrett.
'On the idea of nothingness, it's a healthy habit we have to learn, build, and push through,' he says. 'There's a lot of research emerging now about how social media is rewiring our feelings of validation and self-esteem, so it's important to step back, log-off, write a list, or do something that gives you perspective. Don't confuse your own life and stuff for someone else's goals'.
This blog was published as part of Mental Health Week at Collarts. Collarts students can access our free Wellbeing Practitioners by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
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