* Recharge Your Brain with Downtime *

By Deena Bodine, LCSW, Courier & Press, January 17, 2017 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I’m fortunate each year to facilitate the Reconnecting Youth program with a small group of high school students.  This year, the group selected some “pay it forward” activities to complete.

One of the activities involved writing encouraging messages on post-it notes that were then placed anonymously on student lockers.  One of the students penned, “Think smarter, not harder” as her words of encouragement.  Her message got me thinking.

Our kids are often faced with high expectations at school, fewer opportunities to unwind through recess and the arts and a busy extracurricular and social calendar.  The same can be said about our adult calendars.

This non-stop agenda doesn’t allow for much downtime.  Downtime allows our brains the opportunity to refresh, recharge and make sense of what we have recently learned or experienced.

Downtime can be characterized in three forms:

Good, quality sleep.  There is a great deal of information about the importance of sleep.  I have witnessed the effects of inadequate or interrupted sleep firsthand in myself and my children.  I’m guilty of sacrificing sleep for the sake of more urgent tasks. It’s important to remember the important role of sleep and its impact on our health and brain function.

Idleness or time spent awake doing nothing.  Examples of this include lying awake at night before falling asleep or meditation.  Meditation allows us to refresh our ability to concentrate and to attend to tasks more efficiently.

Time spent on mundane tasks.  Mundane tasks are also essential for learning.  These tasks, such as feeding a pet, putting toys away or cleaning a room give learners a much needed break from sustained brain activity.

Even closing your eyes, taking one deep breath, and exhaling can help refresh the brain and takes practically no time.  Carving out some time at the end of the day or the end of the week to engage in meditation or mindfulness is good practice.

Other great opportunities for downtime include vacations and holiday breaks.  Unintentionally, our family created a great deal of down time over winter break.  Illness hampered our travel plans, and we had two weeks free of athletic practices and games.

I now recognize just how re-energizing “doing nothing” was for our spirits.  I think I’ll make more time for just that.

In the wise words of a high schooler, we need to “think smarter, not harder” and allow our brains more downtime.  Fitting downtime into busy schedules is easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort.