Being still — what if your life depended on it? 5 Reasons to give yourself some breathing space
When was the last time you were alone, still and quiet for longer than 5 minutes?
It’s interesting that we humans have lost permission to do nothing. And I mean absolutely nothing. Not a thing. Nothing at all except think and exist.
Ask yourself now, how does the idea of stillness and quiet make you feel?
❔ Like heaven? A blissful, rose-tinted unreality reserved only for monks and fairy tales? ❔ Or like your worst nightmare? At best, boring and uncomfortable, at worst intimidating and perhaps even, painful.
Modern life is jam-packed with stimulation. If it is not your friends and family, children, chores, pets, neighbours, or the high demands of your job that is distracting you, then it will be your phone, the TV, news, podcasts, music, exercise, alcohol, or education that keeps you constantly consumed by noise. Data, fake news, and noise. I’m not saying that these pursuits are a bad thing, not at all, they can be wonderful aspects of life.
My question is:
❔ Do you leave any space for stillness? ❔ When was the last time you sat in silence, alone, with no book, phone, or companion, just to exist?
It’s Not Easy
It can be hard right? To sit with thoughts and feelings. Especially if this is not something you’re used to doing. It can be uncomfortable and even painful.
It’s not easy to sit with pain, but avoiding feelings doesn’t make them go away. It means they become internalised and will express in your life in other ways. Negative thoughts and emotions can manifest into depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and even physical illness.
Society is perfectly designed to keep you constantly preoccupied, including forms of escapism or avoidance. I don’t know about you, but when I watch TV for too long I feel restless and unfulfilled, but it is such an absorbing creation. It is purposefully addictive to enhance ratings and keep us watching for hours.
Drugs and alcohol are another perfect form of avoidance, they make us feel good and forget about discomfort. But only for a while.
We are expected to achieve all the time. Although a practicing mindfulness, wellbeing, and personal growth advocate, I still have times where I experience guilt if I am not doing something with my time. Even if it is just reading a book, writing, or cooking, I feel a need to be constantly productive. To sit in stillness with nothing to distract me can be a real stretch sometimes.
We fill our heads with noise. Most of the time.
It is interesting how normal it has become to be continuously stimulated. Interesting that, being alone is considered lonely and thus negative, doing nothing is considered lazy and unproductive, and being quiet is considered uninteresting, introverted, or boring. By what standards and whose rules are those statements true?
If we don’t take time to understand the thoughts and feelings that naturally occur in response to our experiences, then we become dependent on external support or vices.
Which makes me question:
❔ Why, has the race to the finish line become so competitive? ❔ What is it about being still and alone that signifies we are not living our lives? ❔ And what, are we actually gaining by being constantly stimulated, active, or glued to a screen?
I decided to explore the benefits of doing the opposite.
The Benefits of Stillness
The benefits of stillness are becoming more widely celebrated. And the more I give myself time to stop, the more productive I become. The pandemic has enforced changes that have led many people to reflect on how they spend their time. A step back from the rat race and no need to commute gives us more time to exist and enjoy this ride we call life. To be present and maybe even, watch the world go by.
If this short sentence throws you into a state of panic, don’t worry, take some deep breaths, and read on. Watching the world go by, by no means, suggests wasting your life in idleness. I’m talking about giving your body and mind time to recalibrate. This invites contentment and time to reflect on what is actually important to you, but also allows you to be more effective, productive and potentially even extend the longevity of your life.
Let's explore the main benefits of stillness together:
Stillness and quiet from the buzz of life does not necessarily mean you need to have a still mind. There are of course, a wealth of benefits to meditation and the practice of mind control. However, more and more research demonstrates how the mind is supposed to wander too, and how this can be beneficial on multiple levels. It is commonly believed that daydreaming is negative and pointless. But researchers are now seeing that letting the mind wander can be advantageous to brain health. Much like in rem sleep, our mind is able to roam the many libraries of information in our heads and sort them into orderly, digestible sections, subsections, and contexts. Anwar 2021, discusses how neuroscientists are finding that different patterns of thought have necessary functions conducive to regulation, stress management, creativity, and relaxation. Daydreaming is also seen to enhance problem-solving.
Very Well Mind explain:
‘What’s happening in your brain while daydreaming is pretty sophisticated. As your mind wanders, you are using diverse aspects of your brain . Both the executive problem-solving network as well as the creativity network in your brain are working simultaneously.’
So next time you find your mind on a tangent, allow it to drift for a while, you may find you inspire new focus, creativity, and stress relief.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Growing research promotes the effects of stillness and quiet on mental health and positive behaviour.
In this study, a school psychologist introduced a program for school children aged 7–9 and found promising results. Children and teachers reported positive emotions and behaviour. Children reported feeling calm, relaxed, settled, and more equipped to appropriately deal with conflict.
It is now understood that, in order to effectively manage negative experiences and emotions, it’s helpful to look at them, give yourself time to understand the way your mind works and the reasons behind your thoughts, behaviours, and responses. If you experience negative thoughts, here are some exercises that will help you in this process of sitting with your thoughts as an effective method to manage your mental health.
Being still and taking time out specifically for you means you can learn to self-regulate. This builds resilience and is empowering. There are so many opinions and perspectives out there, so much advice that sometimes it’s hard to know what feels constructive and rational for you as an individual.
Stepping away from the noise allows time to listen to yourself and what is true for you. It allows you to learn to self-regulate, build self-worth and avoid comparison. This removes you from the overhanging constant fight for success and competition and provides an avenue to understand your own healing, putting control to self-regulate in your own hands.
Rest and digest
I talk about it a lot because it is central to health and wellbeing. Your body needs rest to function properly. If you are constantly on the go and under pressure, you live from the fight or flight stress response where your sympathetic nervous system is doing all the work to keep you functioning and alert. This basically means, other healing functions back off. Even taking 15 minutes a day to be still and removed from constant stimulus, means you can tap into rest and digest mode, the parasympathetic nervous system, to encourage homeostasis, healthy digestion, and healing. To learn more about how digestion is directly linked to mental health, read on here.
It may sound counterintuitive, but taking time out can increase long term productivity. When overloaded by information and stimuli your mental, emotional, and energetic channels become exhausted. We’ve all heard of burn out right? If you never give yourself time to stop and rest, you’re more likely to reach overwhelm which impacts productivity. Feeling frazzled or unable to focus is detrimental to productivity. Taking at least 15 minutes each day to be still allows the mind to process, focus, re-evaluate and refresh for optimum productivity. It’s no coincidence that many corporations are now encouraging mindfulness practices for employees.
Stillness & Grief: My Learning Curve Into The Power of Stillness
The biggest teaching in stillness I have received to date happened recently when a close family member took their own life. It brought me to my knees. It’s tragic, but it also taught me a lot. And the primary experience through this period?
I couldn’t, move, a muscle.
I was sucked into involuntary stillness which I now understand as fundamental to my healing. Anyone else who has dealt with the loss of a loved one may have had a similar experience. We all deal with grief differently, but I retrospectively feel blessed that my instincts intuitively took me to stillness.
That said, my mind played tricks on me to start with, trying to insist that it was not a big deal and I shouldn’t feel or be particularly affected. How crazy is that? I am so conditioned, that even at the loss of a close friend and family member, I tried to convince myself I was weak to feel the impact of this loss. That I should buck up and get on with it. That worse things happen. As if I am a machine without the rich and untold layers of human emotional and energetic response mechanisms. This has a lot to do with living in a society that expects people to just keep cool and carry on for the sake of the economy.
But this time, I found myself in a situation where I just couldn’t move. There was no point trying to fight it. I had no option but to surrender. My energy was so low I had to lie down, pretty much, for a week. I would lie completely still for a whole day then get up to teach a yoga class, then back to stillness. This was my energy processing grief through my body and a profound teaching in surrender. It allowed me to process the trauma, and ultimately get back on my feet to continue to share my work with the world.
I also had time to reflect on what is important, I was able to put things into perspective. One thing I am certain of, my family member did not give himself a moment to stop, breathe and be. Any time he was not rushing around being stressed and busy, he was drinking or glued to a screen.
This experience reinforced for me the importance and point of stillness, but this is certainly not to say that something tragic and deeply moving needs to happen for stillness to be practiced.
We have already seen how 15 minutes of stillness and quiet a day, no devices, no people, no nothing except you, your body, your thoughts, and your space, can be highly rewarding and prepare you to better deal with the pressures and unpredictability of life.
Modern life is demanding, amongst the need to constantly earn, perform and maintain a comfortable lifestyle, there is little time or permission to stop and listen. Humans have lost sight of the importance of closing the door to the outside world and letting ourselves and our energies restore in a completely unique and personal space.
However, we are in a position now, as the world is rapidly changing around us, to question the norms that define our behaviour and instead, start to build positive and supportive practices as a framework for inner strength, personal growth, and radical surrender.
With all the negative connotations around stillness, and the emphasis on productivity and achievement, it is no wonder mental and physical health is at an all-time low. With stress-induced diseases, mental health issues, and suicide on a fast upward trajectory, perhaps it’s time you took some time to be still and let your brain and body process.
Taking time out to be still may be considered a luxury, but if you are in a position to do it, then take advantage of that privilege and use it to build inner reliance, self-regulation, and strength to share your energy with a stressed-out world.