‘Don’t set yourself on fire to keep other people warm’.

 

“It’s a load of Mumbo jumbo!” said a family friend recently when I started up a conversation about downtime, my current lack of it, and the need to get back on track by fitting more time for meditation into my life.

I have to say it took me by surprise. But then I realised that not everyone is out there doing what I do – experimenting with different work life balance strategies, doing the research and digesting the facts. Like the ones that prove just how beneficial meditation and mindfulness can be for our health, humour, wellbeing, and productivity.

Which is why I decided to dedicate this week’s blog to those of you who like their  advice with a healthy dose of hard data and a coating of solid proof.

Make time for downtime.

downtime

 

Last week I discussed how finding space and time in your life for stillness and self-reflection is the first step towards achieving an enhanced sense of well-being, and ultimately balance. I shared some tips for building  ‘downtime’ in the form of mindfulness or meditation into your already busy life. This week, I want to give you 5 great reasons why you should definitely give it a go. And I’ve got some juicy research to back me up!

 

downtime

 

downtime

It reduces stress and anxiety.

We probably all have that image in our minds of someone sitting cross-legged, meditating in a zen-like state of calmness, but can downtime practices really affect our mental well-being? Yes! A report in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal in 2014 analysed the findings of 47 trials involving 3500 participants and concluded that mindfulness meditation programmes improved conditions of anxiety, stress and pain.

 

downtime

It stimulates creativity.

Studies on creative thinking have shown that meditation practices can enhance human cognition and influence how we conceive new ideas. Practising Open Monitoring Meditation, where we make ourselves receptive to lots of thoughts and sensations, has been demonstrated to improve divergent thinking which means we are more able to think up multiple solutions to problems. Research by the Creative Brain Lab has also shown that we have more ‘eureka’ moments or insightful breakthroughs when we are in a meditative state of mind, blocking out other stimuli that can distract creative brain function.

 

downtime

It makes you more productive.

Most of us will find that our minds wander from time to time and what with open plan offices, phones, text messages, emails, work interruptions and meetings, it is all too easy to get distracted. Recent studies indicate that mindfulness meditation practices increase reading comprehension scores and working memory capacity whilst reducing the number of distracting thoughts we experience. Having downtime makes us focus it seems – and therefore more efficient.

 

downtime

It makes you happier!

Anecdotally, many people report feeling more content when they learn to practise mindfulness or meditation. It can certainly give us the feel-good factor by helping us focus on becoming more aware and appreciative of our surroundings and the ‘little things’ in life. But new research by the University of Kyoto scientifically proves the point. Researchers scanned the brains of students and asked them to rate their happiness levels. The students who reported being happier had larger areas of the brain called the precuneus. Previous studies have shown that meditation can boost grey matter in this area of the brain, which suggests that the precuneus can be exercised like a muscle. Planking works for the abs so downtime works for the mind – we really shouldn’t be surprised that we can help our brains function better both cognitively and emotionally by regularly practising mental tasks. A friend who started practising mindfulness for 10 minutes every day over a couple of months told me that her husband and children were amazed by the transformation in her mood. She agreed that she was doing much less shouting at the children and felt much calmer and more consistent in her approach to balancing parenting and her job. She didn’t really know how it was working – but it was definitely working!

 

downtime

It gives you a tool for rescuing yourself from overwhelm.

Even if we are in good mental and physical shape and have effective organisational strategies, there will always be times when something unexpected happens which threatens to upset our balance. Sometimes, it can all seem ‘too much’.  If we regularly practise mindfulness or meditation, it gives us a clear strategy that we can always employ for refocusing our lives and regaining control. Practise makes perfect – it’s worth putting in the effort now for the benefits we will receive later, when we really need them.

 

When it comes to babyproofing your life, focusing on your own well-being is the key to making it all work. You should not run yourself into the ground juggling your career and family responsibilities – it will be totally counterproductive in the long run. Being exhausted and stressed is no good to anyone; not your family, or your employer, and especially not you. If you learn how to keep yourself in good physical and mental shape before the time comes however, you will be in a much better position to care for your children and cope with the challenges of balancing career and family life when they eventually arise. Learning the art of self-care, then, is vital to avoid the pitfalls of working parenthood. As we’ve just seen from the science – having downtime and gaining mental clarity and focus makes us more efficient, more creative, less stressed and ultimately happier – it’s a win-win for both work and family life!

Have you noticed any benefits from having some downtime in your life? Come and share your experiences in our Linkedin Group

For further tips and resources on downtime and well-being, our Babyproof Your Career online course is launching soon. Register your interest here.