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Niksen – the art of doing nothing

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Published: 17 June 2020

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Nancy Bradley, Health and Wellbeing Manager at the University of Sunderland in London, wants you to do nothing. She tells us about Niksen, the Dutch practice of taking time for yourself, and how you can use it to find some relaxation in your busy life.

When was the last time you stopped and enjoyed doing nothing without feeling guilty? With more time on our hands now, you might be tempted to fill it with tasks and chores. Modern life encourages us to ‘always be on’ and ready to go, never having a moment to pause. This had led a lot of people to find it hard to know how to relax. In the UK we check our phones on average every 12 minutes. That adds up to two hours and 28 minutes every day. Just think what you could do with all that time.

How can being busy affect us?

We are not machines. We need to switch off sometimes. Being busy most of the time can impact our physical and mental wellbeing, leading to burnout, stress and anxiety. Burnout is so serious that it’s recognised by the World Health Organization, so it’s worth looking into how to prevent it.

Learn to switch off

Finding a way to switch off should be high on our list of priorities, but how to do that can be difficult. With Niksen, the Netherlands might have found the answer. Meaning ‘to be idle’ - or literally spending time doing nothing, Niksen is similar to mindfulness. You set yourself to just sit with your thoughts and simply ‘be’. The aim is to just enjoy things without any purpose, like sitting in a chair and looking out your window. Niksen challenges the negative image that doing nothing is the same as being lazy.

What are the benefits?

Practising doing nothing can help promote a relaxation response - the opposite to the better-known fight or flight response caused by stress. Fight or flight releases a huge number of hormones into our bodies, causing a faster heartbeat, tense muscles and a feeling of danger. As life is a lot less threatening in the modern world, this can lead to unnecessary anxiety. Niksen is a way to restore our balance, slow down and breath.

How to practice Niksen

  • Daydream while staring out a window
  • Listen to some music with your feet up
  • Sit down and do something that you know how to do automatically (like knitting)
  • Go for a walk with no destination in mind
  • Plan to have no plan one evening in the week or one day at the weekend

You might find this practice harder than you expect. Don’t worry if you can’t go for more than a few minutes, but challenge yourself to see greater benefits.

The Health and Wellbeing team are always around if you want to talk to them about issues like stress and anxiety, or anything else around your experience as students at the University of Sunderland in London. Book a one-to-one appointment with them today. Email the team at londonhealth@sunderland.ac.uk or call on 0207 5317 343.

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