Downtime Is Not a Dirty Word

take a timeout from stressWhen I was in my mid-20s, I loaned my car to a friend. On his way to pick up a friend at the airport, he was rear-ended and the car was totaled (thank God, no one was hurt). A few months later, I received a settlement check from the other driver’s insurance company in the mail. What did I do with those low five figures? Did I save them? Or put them toward higher education? Nope—I took one look at that check and decided on the spot to quit my job. (Did I mention I was in my mid-20s?) It may seem an irresponsible thing to do, but during that time I had my first taste of many things that have grown to become important parts of my life. I finally had time to take my first yoga class. I also discovered Ayurveda, learned how to feed myself on home-cooked food instead of relying on takeout, and began relying on my bicycle as my primary mode of transportation. Taking a break from the working world created an opening of time that changed and improved the course of my life.

In her fantastic book, Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi describes the benefits of giving yourself the gift of downtime better than I ever could: “By not doing so much, we create natural pauses to reflect. By not spreading ourselves thin doing things that aren’t important, we open up time for the things that are.” Amen, sister.

I’m not suggesting that you have to quit your job or completely change your life in order to benefit from having some unstructured time at your disposal. But I am daring you to take a good look at your weekly to-do list and calendar and cross off or cancel one thing you’re dreading or not particularly excited about. Write yourself a note excusing you from participating if you need a nudge: Dear self—you are excused from attending this one thing because it doesn’t light you up in any way and you could really use a break from all things obligatory.

The trick is to use the downtime you’re creating in a way that feeds your energy instead of slowly draining it away. Sitting under a tree and breathing in the sweet-smelling air—worthy. Digging out your knitting needles/sewing machine/paints and dusting off your creative impulses—worthy. Taking a walk with no particular destination in mind—worthy. Getting sucked in to a Cash Cab marathon—not so much.

This week, I opted out of a weeknight party to celebrate the launch of a new line of spa products. The goodie bag sounded dreamy (and included a certificate for a free massage!), but we’ve got an action-packed weekend that I want to be rested for. What will you politely decline in the name of giving yourself the gift of downtime?

Take care and keep breathing,


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2 thoughts on “Downtime Is Not a Dirty Word

  1. I’m in a somewhat long-distance relationship with my boyfriend. Although I normally head down on Friday evenings after work to see him, those jaunts exhaust me. So, this week, I’m resting at home Friday night. I’m going to my Weight Watchers meeting Saturday morning and then heading down to see him after that. While that gives us less time together, he’s wrapping one his graduate classes and could use the time. And I’ve had a pretty stressful week and could use the rest. Once with him, I’ll be a lot more rested and content then if I schlepped directly from work.

    And then next week, we have a long weekend that we’ve both deserved and that’s going to be ALL about downtime.

    I think it’s really brave that you took that check and quit your job. It’s obviously paid off, too! — Joselle (re-posted by Kate)

  2. This week, I’m NOT going to read The New Yorker. I’m sorry New Yorker, I love you and I love the wit and wisdom you bring into my life. But sometimes you sit and stare at me and cause a panicky sensation to rise up in my chest because I’m still reading you from last week and already (!) you are back again. So this week I’m going to allow myself to put you in the recycling bin. I’m not going to feel guilty, and instead I’m going to rock out to some great music on my commute in the morning and take a leisurely stroll home in the evening. And that’s ok! — Amanda (re-posted by Kate)

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