Make Time for Downtime

Chilling Out Revives Body and Soul

Here’s something to add to our to-do list: nothing.

Americans today work more hours than ever before, foregoing hardearned vacation days and spending more time with electronic devices than with friends and family. The temptation and pressure to do more at the expense of needed rest are great, but failing to take time out to recharge our minds and bodies can have serious consequences, according to experts.

Downtime is most acutely needed in the workplace. In a survey of nearly 20,000 workers, The Energy Project and Harvard Business Review found that 59 percent of them were physically exhausted, emotionally drained, distracted and lacking purpose.

Headquartered in Yonkers, New York, with offices in Europe and Australia, The Energy Project has helped hundreds of businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, create healthier, happier and higher-performing workplaces. The company takes its cues from elite athletes that carefully build rest and recovery periods into their training schedules. “Just as your body needs sleep and food to function optimally, so does your mind and spirit,” says Annie Perrin, an executive vice president with the project.

There’s a mounting body of neurological research to buttress the analogy. Important assimilation of learning and “meaning making” occurs in the resting brain, according to Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D., associate professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and author of Emotions, Learning, and the Brain. When our minds are allowed to wander, they engage a network of interacting brain regions that together are thought to play a key role in building our ability for inward reflection and recollection, known as the default mode network. Immordino-Yang’s research suggests that such activation during restful moments is positively associated with the recalling of memories, envisioning the future and even developing a moral foundation.

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