Laura Marti – January 11, 2022
It’s the New Year! And it’s that time that people traditionally determine what their New Year’s resolutions will be. I think we’ve all experienced the initial excitement that we were going to do something new in the new year – tackle weight loss, change a bad habit, renovate the kitchen, resolve to be a kinder, better, different person – only to throw in the towel after a month or two, defeated by our inability to carry it through. Life’s demands seem to take over, and we aren’t able to keep up. Maybe that’s just me lol, but between the challenges of Covid since 2020, a few conversations with friends, and all the learning I’ve done this past year, I think it’s time for me to reframe how I walk into 2022. The new word for me is REFRESH.
Have you ever noticed how many ads tell you that you need a “quick room refresh” or a “refresh to your living room or bedroom.” We refresh our rooms. We refresh our drinks. We even refresh our computer screens. We put on a fresh coat of paint. We want a “refreshing change of pace.” We go on retreats, we take vacations, we take sabbaticals. We know our human bodies need rest and refreshing.
Why do we need to refresh? We need it because things get stale, old, rundown, dilapidated, and people get tired, weary, and exhausted. We need to refresh because newness brings life, energy, and strength – it invigorates us and breathes new life.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
To explore this idea, I had fun doing a little word search for “refresh” and a few other related words that all mean ‘to make new’ in some way. Here’s what I found.
* to provide new vigor and energy by rest, food, etc.
* to stimulate (the memory).
* to make fresh again; reinvigorate or cheer (a person, the mind, spirits, etc.).
* to freshen in appearance, color, etc.
RENEW implies a restoration of what had become faded or disintegrated so that it seems like new.
RESTORE implies a return to an original state after depletion or loss.
REFRESH implies the supplying of something necessary to restore lost strength, animation, or power.
RENOVATE suggests a renewing by cleansing, repairing, or rebuilding.
REJUVENATE suggests the restoration of youthful vigor, powers, or appearance.
REPLENISH implies to make full or complete again, as by supplying what is lacking, used up.
REVIVE means restoring to life or consciousness, to quicken or renew the mind.
I’m energized just seeing all of these words defined. I especially like the idea of filling up again, because it speaks to how we can often feel depleted and empty, like we have nothing left.
I think we all intuitively know that we need to rest and refresh, but I appreciate knowing that science supports these ideas. In this 2013 Scientific American article, “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime,” the author discusses how research on naps, meditation, nature walks, and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals that mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories, and encourage creativity:
Why giving our brains a break now and then (mental downtime) is so important has become increasingly clear in a diverse collection of new studies investigating: the habits of office workers and the daily routines of extraordinary musicians and athletes; the benefits of vacation, meditation and time spent in parks, gardens and other peaceful outdoor spaces; and how napping, unwinding while awake and perhaps the mere act of blinking can sharpen the mind. What research to date also clarifies, however, is that even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working.
The author continues:
Rather—just as a dazzling array of molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night—many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.
Over the past century, many scientists considered the idea that the brain is continuing to be productive during downtime as ludicrous, but now we know that it’s just the opposite – rest, refreshment, and even daydreaming are necessary for getting any work done, and contribute to our being happier and healthier. Downtime is essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior, and reinforce an internal code of ethics.
In this article from Harvard Health, “Secret to brain success: Intelligent cognitive rest,” the authors discuss how “unfocus” is just as important as focus. Our brains are wired for both.
Called the default mode network (DMN), we used to think of the ‘unfocus’ network as the Do Mostly Nothing network. And this network uses more energy than any other network in the brain. As you can imagine, this network is doing anything but “resting” even though it operates largely under the conscious radar. Instead, when you turn your “focus” brain off, it will retrieve memories, link ideas so that you become more creative, and also help you feel more self-connected too.
There are many ways to activate the power of “unfocusing,” including:
Napping – A short 10-minute nap might be all you need if you’re just tired. But if you have a major creative project you’re working on, you’ll need more like a 90-minute nap. This gives your brain enough time to “shuttle around ideas to make the associations that it needs to make.”
Positive Constructive Daydreaming (PCD) – As opposed to slipping into a daydream, which is more like falling off a cliff, you must parachute into the recesses of your mind with a playful and wishful image — perhaps one of you lying on a yacht or floating on your back in a pool on vacation. Then comes the swivel of attention — from looking outside, to wandering inside. With this move, you engage your ‘unfocus’ brain and all the riches that it can bring.
Free-walking – In the brain, thinking supports movement, and movement supports thinking. In fact, exercise improves your DMN function. It normalizes it…and increases connectivity. Other studies have shown that “free-walking” results in improvements in fluency, flexibility, and originality of thinking. So if you want to boost your creativity, go on a meandering hike on a safe path less traveled. Furthermore, walking outdoors may be even more beneficial than puttering around the house.
A NATIVE PERSPECTIVE
I loved learning this last year that the Winter Solstice was/is a time for Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples to rest and reflect. In this article from NDN Collective, the author states, “In its period of darkness, the winter solstice is an opportunity to go inward with deep intention, to care for our spiritual selves, our bodies and minds, our loved ones and families, and to prepare for the longer days ahead.” This feels so much more healthy for my mind, body, and spirit than the goal-oriented push to see what I can “accomplish.”
They go on to share several ideas for ways to spend the winter solstice, such as:
Take a day off of work or just slow down and rest.
Cook and share a healthy, comforting meal with loved ones.
Reflect on the past year.
Give thanks for all of your blessings.
Clean and honor your (sacred) living space by decluttering.
Channel your creative energy through arts, crafts, and exercising your imagination.
Light a fire and enjoy its warmth or tell stories with friends.
These are such great suggestions. They may not sound much different than typical New Year’s resolutions, but for me it involves a paradigm shift. Rather than what I can accomplish, I’m resolving to slow down, enjoy life, and especially take the time to renew, revive, restore, refresh every day. I’m giving myself permission to have downtime, to take naps, to play with my dog, to work in my garden, to have coffee with a friend. I had dinner with one particular friend every 2-3 weeks throughout these two years of Covid (and summer included pooltime). We joked about being in each other’s “bubbles,” but that’s really what we were. We had decided to allow each other into our intimate circle of safety. We needed that time of refreshing with each other. In many ways, we have gotten each other through the pandemic so far.
A NATURE PERSPECTIVE
A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress, and promoting healing. In this article from YaleEnvironment360,
Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health:
These studies have shown that time in nature — as long as people feel safe — is an antidote for stress: It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood. Attention Deficit Disorder and aggression lessen in natural environments, which also help speed the rate of healing. In a recent study, psychiatric unit researchers found that being in nature reduced feelings of isolation, promoted calm, and lifted mood among patients.
The author continues:
It’s well-known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being, but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough,” said Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter. “Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.”
The studies point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.
The spiritual connection is important as well. As a person of faith, these verses from the Hebrew Scriptures have encouraged me for many years:
“Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland so my people can be refreshed.” – Isaiah 43:20
“Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” – Proverbs 11:25
What do you need to be refreshed, revived, re-invigorated in the new year? A new or renewed perspective? Connecting with friends? New books to read? Some time outside? If you can’t take a vacation then at least get outside and take a walk in your local park. Do you need to spend time with a friend or with family? If you can’t do it in person, then at least make a phone call, or a FaceTime connection. Do some “free-walking” or “positive constructive daydreaming,” sit on your porch and listen to nature around you (not just look), declutter a room, read a sacred text, start a garden and dig in the dirt, play board games with your kids…take a nap! Take care of yourself and those around you.
Acknowledging the Winter Solstice is a Decolonial Act for Indigenous People | NDN Collective (December 2019)
Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime (October 2013)
Secret to brain success: Intelligent cognitive rest – Harvard Health (May 2017)
Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health – Yale E360 (January 2020)
The 7 types of rest that every person needs (TedXAtlanta, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith)
How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? 5 Surprising Answers | Psychology Today (April 2017)
Garden Your Way to Better Health: 7 Proven Ways Digging in the Dirt Is Good for You | Better Homes & Gardens (January 2021)
Antidepressant Microbes In Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy (Gardening Know How)
30 Bible Scriptures on Refreshing (Connect Us, July 2020)