* 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.

Striving For Work/Life Balance

Work life balance

By Deena Bodine, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 12, 2016 –

I recently read a headline that challenged the notion of work/life balance. I didn’t make it very far into the article because, frankly, it isn’t something I want to believe.

Many of us wear multiple hats as parents, significant others, sons or daughters, colleagues, employees, etc. There must be a way to find balance within these roles.

This concept of homeostasis, a relatively stable equilibrium, has proved even more important as my husband and I welcomed our fourth child. Her arrival has allowed me to give some thought to giving my best at home and work while keeping sacrifices minimal.

Let go of perfection. The pressure we put on ourselves to meet expectations that don’t fall in line with reality can be unbearable. Unrealistic expectations can weigh on our relationships with our significant others and children. Prioritize what is most important to you and strive for that while keeping expectations in check. And don’t forget to cut yourself some slack.

Embrace your village. If you have family or a dependable baby sitter available to help with your children, having caregivers that truly care for your child can put your mind at ease when at work or taking time for yourself. Ask for and accept offers of help.

Plan ahead. It seems simple enough, but taking a few minutes the evening before can save a lot of frustration and rush in the morning. Prepare lunches, lay out clothes and pack up school or diaper bags. Place items near the door alongside keys for a quick departure. Use Sunday evening to prepare for the week, discussing the school lunch menu, extracurricular activities and logistics, and planning meals for the week.

Implement a family calendar. We have recently developed a family calendar to compliment what is in my personal planner. Our calendar includes after school activities, weekend events and the school lunch menu. Yours can be catered to the needs of your family. My kids have enjoyed the ownership of having their activities included. We can direct them to the calendar when they have questions about what will be served for lunch at school or who will pick them up.

Develop family rituals. Make family time rich in quality in the event there is limited quantity. This doesn’t have to be intensive. For example, encourage each family member to share one thing they are thankful for each day. Write these items on a slip of paper and collect in a jar or write them in a notebook to review together later. Take turns allowing each family member to plan an activity. Limit television or checking your phone so that you can focus on interactions with one another. Ultimately, it is less about what you do as long as you do it together.

Carve out time for yourself. Whether you spend time recharging with a book before bed or prefer to get up a few minutes early to enjoy the quiet with a cup of coffee, setting time aside for self-care helps us to be more effective in all our roles. It isn’t selfish or a luxury.