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The Struggle to Be STILL

As an adult, when I struggled with anxiety after a harmful relationship, I couldn’t remember feeling this way before and wondered why my anxiety was so high at this particular time.

I thought back to my high school relationship and realized at that time I hadn’t been as anxious.

I also didn’t feel it as I healed. Or wrote the book, It Doesn’t Start with a Punch.

Again, I wondered, “Why now, why am I feeling it so much this time?”

As I reflected, it dawned on me that after the adult relationship ended I was much busier than during previous times in life. Busier with some responsibilities. But also busier with distraction. Busier being plugged in.

For years I’ve found peace in silence. And calm as I listen to the quiet things throughout the day – the birds chirping, the wind moving wind chimes, the washing machine or dryer running. I’m content and relaxed.

But lately, I’ve been listening to podcasts and had the TV on more often.

As I thought back to my teenage years, I remembered that cable TV was new and although it offered more channels and options than we had previously, it was nothing compared to the endless number of shows and movies we can stream today. And podcasts were not yet available.

So as a teen, rather than veg in front of TV or try and learn something new on a podcast, I went for a walk. Or laid on the trampoline in the backyard and just watched the clouds move and gazed at the sky. Wow! Just remembering that I feel more relaxed.

I’ve heard reports that the teens of today’s generation are more stressed and anxious than those from previous generations. Considering the differences between the 1980’s and the 2020’s it’s easy to see why. Youth today can watch TV, movies, or YouTube videos on their phone. They can meet up virtually with friends or strangers as they play video games. They can scroll social media and when they get bored with one, they have many other apps to hop to. Using these devices, they’re searching for something that is never going to fill them. And it’s robbing them of important downtime.

The same is true for adults in the 2020’s. Recently I drove six hours to visit family. Normally if I have a long drive coming up, I reach out to a few friends I don’t get to see often and make plans to talk to them during the drive. I also try to look at my podcast list and pin a few to listen to as I drive.

This time I didn’t plan ahead. It had been a busy week and as I got in the car, at first I worried how I was going to fill the time, then I realized it might be nice just to drive in silence and relax. After about an hour I started to get bored and sleepy. I have a safe driving app on my phone that monitors if I touch or talk on my phone while driving. My score was high, so I didn’t want to touch my phone. After a while, I couldn’t take it and turned on a podcast. As the drive continued, I reached out to a friend and then played other podcasts. I was frustrated with myself for needing to use the phone so much.

I thought back to my 20’s when I lived a seven-hour drive away from family. At that time, mobile phones were rare (and didn’t fit in a back pocket), and podcasts didn’t exist. I drove that route many times with only the songs on the radio and my thoughts. I didn’t have the option for much distraction, but I was fine. I’m positive it provided beneficial downtime.

Another example comes to mind. In my 20’s, after a busy day at work, I discovered a good way to unwind was to walk on the treadmill until I wasn’t thinking about work anymore. It helped me enjoy the rest of my evening and I was ready to start work fresh the next day. Now in my 50’s, I run in the mornings so often by the end of the workday, I feel like the day has been full and instead of a walk to unwind, I turn on TV. I think I’m relaxing, but I’m not.

The truth is, at any age, we need downtime. I learned about this while writing the book, It Doesn’t Start with a Punch. In Chapter 20 I share information about how scientists have found that sections of the brain become more active when we have downtime or daydream. It’s called brain default mode or default network, and allows the brain to process information, reinforce learning, regulate our emotions, solve problems, and even assess our morals*.

As a teen, I remember looking out the window during class and daydreaming. Now, kids turn to their phones.

Downtime doesn’t have to be sitting still. It’s anything you do unplugged that lets your mind wander, such as cleaning, walking the dog, washing dishes, raking leaves, drawing, painting, etc. – just be sure to be unplugged!

In addition to downtime, I believe we also need those moments of actually sitting still. Sometimes in the evenings, I sit on my patio. After a few minutes, I rest my head on the chair, close my eyes and just feel the breeze. Other times I watch the night sky. After a few more minutes it feels indulgent. I start thinking of everything that needs to get done and head back inside.

Today I realize two things:

  1. It’s not indulgent, it’s healthy and important.

  2. Sometimes I let distractions add to my plate.

Podcasts and even social media platforms can offer a plethora of information. It seems beneficial, and it can be – but not when it adds pressure to us or takes away from downtime. As with anything, we need to find the right balance. Maybe it’s listening to 1-2 podcasts on a subject rather than 10. Or watching one episode, rather than rolling into the next…or the next. Or deciding to cut out a show and clean something instead.

If we cut out the distractions, we have time for the things that need to be done as well as quiet times to relax, unwind, and let our thoughts wander and process. As beneficial as that is, there’s an even greater benefit and need we fulfill with downtime and being still – time to talk with and listen to God.

A friend once shared some insights from the story of David and Goliath. She mentioned that as a shepherd David was often alone in the hills for days on end with just the sheep. At first, I couldn’t fathom all that time alone. My friend mentioned, that in all that quiet time, David talked to and listened to God. He knew God intimately. So much so that David’s known for having a “heart like God’s”.

I’m thankful for these thoughts, the reminder of how important downtime and being still are, and the realization of how off I can feel when I don’t make them part of every day.

I’m looking forward to a new day; spending time in the Word first, and then remembering to enjoy and find peace in being still.

Wishing you the same!

*Hallie Smith, Untitled blog post, Indigo Learning, March 27, 2014


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