For most of us, it’s too easy to keep busy and much more difficult to realize the benefits of slowing down. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey reported that 60 percent of U.S. adults at least sometimes felt too busy to enjoy life. Having children under 18 made it even worse, with 74 percent of parents with minors in their home responding that they sometimes felt too busy to take pleasure in life.
Somewhere along the way, we bought into the idea that being busy is better. If we are truly to remedy the illness of busyness, what does slowing down—the antidote—look like?
How Slowing Down Can Heal Busyness
Think of slowing down as adding white space to the pages of our lives, leaving unstructured time each day to relax, dream, and enjoy ourselves without guilt.
The benefits of unstructured time and slowing down are many. Slowing down the pace of our lives decreases blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. Cortisol helps us navigate the ups and downs of daily life, but the unchecked high levels that accompany a rushed, stressed lifestyle can lead to a host of mental and physical health problems such as depression, hypertension, and insomnia.
Slowing down nourishes our mood and mental health. When we take our time, we are more likely to notice and savor the simple joys in everyday life—morning coffee, the evening breeze, an unexpected daisy in a late-winter garden.
Slowing down can encourage healthier relationships. Busy people don’t give their full attention to their conversations or experiences with others. The people we love deserve better than that. They deserve our attention and the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with us.
Slowing down is healing for our planet. When we have more time to plan and prepare meals, we’re less likely to use packaged foods and we produce less waste. When we’re not speeding from place to place, we use less gas and are more conscious of the scenery around us. And when we’re more aware of the world’s beauty, we’re more inclined to take care of it.
Finally, slowing down is better for our spiritual health. Only with time, patience, and the clearing of distractions can we grow in our relationship with God. The quiet allows us to hear God’s voice in our lives. It enables us to reflect on our spiritual journeys and determine what’s meaningful.
How to Access the Benefits of Unstructured Time
How do we begin the process of slowing down? We start with the intentional commitment to allow free, unstructured time every day.
Take a look at your calendar and start spacing out your activities. Get out of the habit of filling every moment of the day. This means learning to prioritize your commitments, which will inevitably mean saying no to things you might have automatically agreed to in the past.
One idea is to schedule at least five minutes between each activity. This allows time to prepare for your next event and reflect on your last one. For example, instead of heading straight home after work, spend a few minutes emptying your mind of the workday tensions with deep breathing. You’ll go home to your family with renewed enthusiasm and interest.
Meals also provide an opportunity to add white space to the day. When we are in such a hurry that our meals are gulped down in the car, we miss the chance to savor and appreciate what we have eaten. We risk overeating because we didn't focus on what we already had. Try eating one meal a day seated at a table without electronic devices. Pay attention to the taste, smell, and texture of your food. This will increase your satisfaction and make you less likely to overeat mindlessly.
Another way to add white space and slow down is to stop multitasking. Do one thing at a time, and do it well. Practice single-minded focus: When you feel your mind start to wander from what you’re doing, stop, take two deep breaths, and go back to the original task. This also adds enjoyment to your day since you are mindfully living in the moment.
Finally, drive slower. Leave early enough that you don’t have to rush or speed to your destination. Commit to following the speed limit and being a gracious driver—let others pass, don’t zip in and out of lanes, and don’t tailgate the driver in front of you. You’ll be amazed at how much more pleasant driving can be, and you’ll arrive at your destination calm and relaxed instead of flustered and annoyed.
The benefits of unstructured time positively impact your health and satisfaction with life. Just because the world moves at the speed of busyness doesn’t mean we have to!
Try slowing down during meals with these tips for mindful eating.