Don’t just do something, sit there

A swing bridge over sprawling bush. A person is walking across the bridge.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in New Zealand and this year the theme of the week is ‘Nature is key’. For me, this a timely reminder to get out and about, find places that lift my spirits and calm my mind.

I’m in the middle of a hectic few weeks. At work, I am enjoying working with some awesome folks in the health and fitness industry. Evenings and weekends are full of chores, errands and fun stuff with family too. When things are busy, it can be hard to carve out a little time for myself, time when I can switch off and let things go.

Last Sunday, I read a great quote which reminded me how important these time-outs are:

Don’t just do something, sit there.*

You can find this as a popular meme all over the internet – easy to read and move on regardless. Instead, I took it as a prompt and decided to stop what I was doing and take time to sit and be. I made myself comfortable on the couch in our sunny kitchen, closed my eyes and tried not to think of anything.

Of course, thoughts continued to race through my mind. Rather than get frustrated, I smiled and enjoyed not having to deal with them there and then. My mind gradually slowed and I became aware of my surroundings. First, the hum of the fridge. Then the birdcalls. The mooing of the cows. The bleats of lambs. The wind in the pines on the ridge above us. After that, I spent a glorious twenty minutes with myself – not the business owner or husband or dad – just me.

I grew up in a faith tradition which worships in silence and yet I still forget how powerful a practice it is. Those twenty minutes provided valuable rest and respite for my brain. Made space for my mind to relax. Allowed my intellect to switch off. Prepared me for another hectic week.

None of this is new. Meditation has been around for centuries and mindfulness is now marketed as yoga for the mind. As such, these can seem like mystic skills we can never learn or clever life hacks to make us more productive. Yet we can all find a little space, a little calm and a little peace if we just stop doing and sit for a while.

Around one in six New Zealand adults is diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some time in their lives. These disorders include depression, bipolar disorder and/or anxiety disorder and many others.

I am one of those people.

In my case, pressures of work, too many commitments and a series of bereavements took their toll. Like many, I tried hard not to let things show, particularly at work. I tried to manage things on my own, thinking that I could cheer myself up and stop feeling down by sheer will.

It didn’t work. After a breakdown on a crowded international flight, I sought help. With support from family, friends and our doctor, I began to tackle the problem and things improved. Aware of the triggers and what I can and can’t control, life is more enjoyable. There are good days and not-so-good days but, more and more, there are great and fantastic days.

If you struggle with depression or anxiety, I encourage you to seek help and assistance. Below are some great places to start.

Mental Health Awareness Week

The Lowdown

Mental Health – conditions and treatments


* This quote is attributed to many sources. These include Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, author Sylvia Boorstein and even Buddha himself.