A daily activity that the Dutch have embraced is called a niksen, which means “to do nothing deliciously.” These are short intervals, even just ten minutes long, to do something mindless or enjoyable. Maybe listen to music, watch the clouds, walk the block, knit; activities with no real objective, but which calm the brain and reduce the stress. In a world where we spend, on average, almost 11 hours a day in front of a screen or on our phones, bombarded by sensationalized news or harsh realities, it’s a powerful and necessary tool. According to Doreen Dodgen-Magee, author of restart: Designing Healthy Post-Pandemic Life, integrating a daily niksen into our days has shown a tremendous increase in the body’s ability to self-soothe.
The notion of “self-soothing” is a notion we may’ve heard when discussing child-rearing, when an infant finds his way of falling back to sleep, or a toddler in need of releasing her pent-up energy runs up and down the stairs, others may sing, dance, or draw. Dodgen-Magee wants to make it known that adults need to learn how to self-soothe as well. Especially in this “post-pandemic life.” She writes, “Too often, we substitute stimulation for soothing,” and turn to the TV, follow social media, and end up stimulating our nerves, rather than calming them down. To that she recommends the HALT method, taking a pause and asking ourselves if we’re really “hungry, angry, lonely, or tired,” and if the answer is “yes” to any of the choices, then tend to that. Through this one simple method, we name what we’re feeling and rather than squash it, we address it.
Psychologist, researcher, and speaker, Dodgen-Magee works with a variety of clients who’ve been affected by the pandemic, some in ways not expected. There were clients, she says, who were technologically and economically secure and who thrived, but also those who struggled because of their lack of internet, or income; those who had a strong network of friends and socialized as often as possible, and those who didn’t have human support; and lastly, the Covid-survivors, those who lost a partner or family member, or whose Covid symptoms persisted, aka, the “long haulers.” Experiencing these pandemic consequences gave Dodgen-Magee the inspiration to write this book, which she hopes will “give brief but thorough analysis of where we have come from, and ideas about how we might move forward with health and thriving in mind.”
The chapter titles make it easy for readers to fit their own needs, with sections specifically for those who have been personally touched by Covid; those re-entering the workplace, and those who need to help children restart. The term restart refers to what Dodgen-Magee hopes are new habits, a new mindset, and planning to re-enter the world in a healthy way. Many of us, she believes, have experienced some form of trauma that may stay stored in our brains and bodies, and that may manifest in different ways: feeling cheated out of years of our lives, being fearful about returning to the office or returning to the activities we enjoyed pre-pandemic. One fear, in particular, was of scarcity, which manifested in the hoarding of toilet paper. It was a shared obsession that grew out of a fear of not having enough with the need to hoard certain items and to feel in control. One exercise in the book speaks to that and asks her readers to identify anything that was scarce, how did it make them feel, review how the pandemic escalated those fears, and lastly, she provides suggestions on changing the mindset to something like I will have what I need when I need it. Or I am part of a community that will share.
At the end of the day, Dadgen-Magee says Covid provided an opportunity for a “do-over,” an opportunity to assess our lives, how we were living before Covid, during, and how we’d like to live post-Covid. “Our time is not a given,” she says, “try to come out of this with a healthier mindset by taking breaks from the news and from technology and do the things you love.”
Some other restart suggestions from Dodge-Magee include:
Restart Uni-Tasking (performing one task at a time): Though we believe that multi-tasking is something to be praised, research shows it does more harm than good. We take longer to finish tasks and make more errors switching back and forth.
- Practice doing one thing at a time. If you’re doing dishes, just do the dishes; don’t listen to podcast.
- Create physical distance between you and your phone.
- Turn off notifications
Restart with Boredom: Boredom enables us to be creative problem-solvers.
- When streaming a TV program, resist the urge to “skip intro,” or “skip to next episode.” When an episode ends, wait a full minute before starting anything else.
- Prepare to be bored. Create a boredom corner, stock it with a fidget toy, or a doodle pad.
- Commit to a daily niksen. For ten minutes a day, let your mind wander and do nothing.
For more information, visit doreendm.com.