This past Sunday I took a train from the suburbs of Chicago back into the city. It was an hour and a half long train ride, and I was the only one in my cart for a good part of the trip. In my bag I had my iPhone and headphones, my laptop, a book, and a notepad. But for some reason, I had a strong urge to just sit and stare out the window and do nothing and let my thoughts wander. So that’s exactly what I did for an hour and a half. And it’s exactly what I needed.
I’m not sure what brought on my strong urge to do absolutely nothing. Maybe it was because I had just had a really stressful week and I hadn’t had any time to decompress. Maybe it was because I almost always have my headphones in whenever I travel and I wanted some silence for once. Maybe it was because I’m rarely ever alone and I wanted to take advantage of the rare opportunity. Whatever the case, it was amazing to see just how difficult it can be to sit still and not be doing something, but how rewarding it can be if you make yourself do it.
We never just sit anymore. We never contemplate. We don’t think. We don’t stare. We don’t look out a window and let our thoughts wander, unless there’s simultaneously music playing in our ears or a book in our lap or a phone in our hand or sometimes all 3. We never have silence. We don’t allow ourselves time to just let things wash over us. Things seem to always be happening to us and we are always just barely keeping up.
That’s why sometimes, to solve your problems, all you need to do is not do anything. It’s not actually going to fix everything. Doing nothing isn’t going to get you promoted or sort out your rocky relationship with your friend or help you figure out your career path. But giving yourself a solid amount of time to give your mind a break and to let your brain rest will do more for your mental health than you could ever imagine.
When you’re in the mindset of go, go, go and achieve, achieve, achieve all day every day, it takes a toll, even if you don’t realize it. When you’re in a constant state of stress and of trying to get things done and of never sitting back to breathe, you don’t realize how exhausted you become – mentally and physically and emotionally.
During most of your downtime, you’re still doing something. You’re watching Netflix or listening to music or reading articles online or texting a friend or scrolling through Instagram. There’s no room for your brain to just be for a little while. There’s no time or space or silence for your mind to sit back and sort through the things that are currently going on in your life. You don’t get the chance to process.
Sometimes your mind just needs a little time to rest. So just try it out for a little while – even if it’s just 5 minutes. Turn off the music in your car while you’re driving, or just sit on the subway and watch all the people, or sit on your couch for a few minutes when you get home from work and let the day wash over you.
Your problems won’t all be solved, but your mind will be a lot more clear than it was before you started.