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The Art of Doing Nothing

If you are feeling exhausted and think you could sleep for a week (or more), then try doing nothing. It might not be that easy, depending on when you last tried.

Feeling exhausted?

Exhaustion is a spectrum. We can be exhausted and just need a quick rest, a nap, a sleep or something fun to replenish us, or it could become a permanent state and you are unable to replenish, no matter how much you try.

It is important to take it seriously, as it could be an indication of something more than just being tired.

Burning out at 12%

Before I burned out, I didn’t feel doctors were taking my exhaustion seriously, and I didn't know what to do with that. Maybe I wasn't expressing myself in a way they could understand. I felt my battery was down to 12% and I was still pushing on to function “as usual.”

I felt I could have slept for about two months.

No matter how much I slept at night (or during the day), my battery was barely charged.

I now know how serious this can be. The feeling that nothing can re-charge your battery is a warning sign. It could be pointing to burnout, depression or another kind of illness or disorder. A doctor should be consulted and that doctor should take it seriously.

I could not stop

I should have had help before it got to 12%, but there were a lot of things inhibiting me getting help. Like the shame of no longer being able to function. The need to prove to everyone that I can still handle everything and continue to work like a dog.

I remember I wanted to do less work and not work as hard as I had been. I knew it was making me ill but somehow I could not stop.

There was a pattern that was stronger than my will and my own reason. My nervous system programming which was afraid of failing or being perceived as lazy or unable to cope with stress continued to work overtime and wanted me to push through.

Like a relentless inner boss. I came to recognise this as my inner critic.

Learn to do nothing, before you have to!

Doing nothing is not something most of us are used to or good at, even though our true nature is not made to be busied every minute of the day. We aren't made to be processing information and creating as much as we do in our modern world. Our system was made for short bouts of action (like hunting and gathering) and long stints of nothing much, maybe a little social interaction and lots of resting.

A constant state of alarm

Our modern life with all its noise and visual stimulation can cause us to be in a constant state of alarm, even if what we are consuming isn’t necessarily alarming. Just our notifications on our phone, mostly indicated with a little red number, are designed to cause a little alarm in our brain and we want to know what is behind that little red number.

Personally I cannot stand the noises smart phones make and I very rarely have mine on, unless I am expecting something and need to be notified, otherwise I have it on silent.

Other people have their phones on loud and I find every single noise a disturbance, I cannot imagine what it is like hearing that all day. Just imagining being in an environment when everybody’s phone is making a noise makes me shudder.

My point is, we are constantly being “alarmed” by our environments and the art of doing nothing is getting more difficult to access.

A good bit about burnout

I used to be good at doing nothing. Naval-gazing, dreaming, just looking out of the window and burning out made me embrace those skills again. I had the time and the space to stop and do nothing. To drink my tea and look out of the window. To sit in the garden watching the bees, like my ancestors when they were done with hunting and gathering. Just watching nature. Listening to the wind blowing and the birds singing. It is where I found a lot of peace.

Plan bouts of nothing

Taking time to do nothing, without my phone, the radio or the TV feels wonderful and I highly recommend it. If you are feeling exhausted or even burned out I certainly recommend bouts of nothing! Maybe if you are already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted in your life, plan bits of nothing into your schedule.

A word on sleep

As you may know already, I advocate for naps and sleep too! Sleep (as well as rest) is underrated in our society and sure, not everyone is like me and needs a lot of sleep, but I feel we should allow for different types of people needing different amounts of sleep in our world.

I believe strongly in the healing powers of sleep. There is a school of thought that people with depression need to be activated to get out of it, that may be helpful for some. Bur for me, sleep and rest are so very healing and were imperative to finding my peace. Activity came with time, once I had replenished my energy.

Do a bit of nothing now

Try it out for yourself right now. Turn off the screen you are reading this on and just spend one minute gazing out of the window. Just take in what you can see. If you are lucky, there is sky, trees, maybe a bird or two. Notice how you feel. Maybe it relaxes you, distracts you from your thoughts, or maybe it makes you feel anxious as we live in a meritocracy and are encouraged to be doing or producing all the live-long day. Whatever the effect, it is totally worth practising!

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