By Victoria Newton, EAP Teacher, Centre for Academic Language and Development
When a fellow Mental Health Champion shared ‘How to Stay Calm in a Global Pandemic‘, a free eBook written by Dr Emma Hepburn, one particular message stood out to me. Amidst so much advice being shared about how to manage and cope, this information can, in itself, become overwhelming. In reality, no amount of advice on how to manage your wellbeing, thoughts, feelings and emotions can be universally applied and you are not getting anything wrong if the recommendations don’t work for you.
Over the past year I have found myself thinking about all the things I could be doing to restore my energy and make the most of all the opportunities available, to stay connected and inspired. Yet, I hadn’t considered what I could stop doing.
On the very same day that Dr Hepburn’s book was shared with me, a clear, and timely, message popped up on my Headspace app: “Do nothing for three minutes right now”. I realised in that moment that I was forgetting one very important thing:
It’s okay to… do nothing.
It’s okay to embrace the empty space. Time doesn’t always have to be filled with an activity. We don’t have to meditate or make a cup of tea in those ten “in between” minutes before the next meeting if we don’t want to. Whilst listening to calming music, going for a walk and doing stretches are great ways to take a break from our screen, I have found it important to remember that there is also the option of removing all stimulus completely, in favour of a “pause”.
It was a CALD colleague, Donna Maclean, who coined a term I now love: Cognitive Breathing Space (CBS).
One way we can enjoy some Cognitive Breathing Space is to close our eyes or simply stare at a wall – just to take a moment to remove as much sensory stimulation as possible. In short, consciously do nothing.
It’s also okay to refuse any of the ‘self-improvement’ life hacks that don’t actually serve us. We must all know someone who has jumped on one of the many lockdown bandwagons: making sourdough bread; learning to juggle; mastering a new language; playing a musical instrument; developing artistic talents; or joining online exercise classes. Whilst these are all excellent activities, they don’t always need to be top of the list, if simply sitting quietly for a while would be more beneficial.
So here is your challenge, should you wish to accept it – your reminder, should you need it:
Give yourself three minutes today to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
Personally, I found it much harder to achieve than I expected. It can feel like an unnatural thing to do during an otherwise hectic working day, but it’s so refreshing when I manage it. In fact, I’m definitely going to do nothing, more often, from now on.