Stress is a mammoth health and wellness topic. We are all told on what feels like a daily basis that we haven’t struck the work-life balance and our stress levels are dangerously high. Yoga studios are popping up left, right and centre and there are enough mindfulness apps available to keep you busy for five days straight – if you had the time. Interestingly, research by the University College London and the University of Bath recently questioned the success of such apps when a small study found that playing Block! Hexa Puzzle game left participants feeling less stressed and more energised than HeadSpace.
Rather than looking for apps or activities to help clear our minds, perhaps it’s time to tap into the Dutch approach and do nothing at all. Niksen is the official term for this stress-reducing technique used in the Netherlands. The idea is that sitting back and letting your mind wander without any plans or distractions can help you unwind.
That’s right, there’s no app or teacher to guide you through. You simply sit down and chill out. The head of wellbeing at Gazelli, Alex Lisiecka, champions Niksen as a guilt-free way to take time out. “I feel like I don’t need to convince anybody that sitting on a comfy chair and ‘just being’ without focusing on anything and letting your mind wander can be beneficial to battle the stress levels,” says Lisiecka. “I think Niksen’s main benefits are the lack of rules and simply allowing yourself to be and do not put discipline into equation. This can be quite liberating in a sense as often we feel that to relax we should be doing a ’specific thing’ like breathing in a certain pace doing certain yoga poses etc.”
Another advocate of the concept is professor Ruut Veenhoven, Emeritus professor of social conditions for human happiness at University Rotterdam, who believes that Niksen is not only a way to relax but also helps to free up your mind and make space for new ideas. “The pace of life is high in our modern society, so the idea of Niksen is more appealing to people,” says Professor Veenhoven.
While taking time out to do sweet FA sounds dreamy, too much time doing nothing could result in being unproductive and exacerbate stress levels. Lisiecka recommends taking a moderate approach, after all the concept of doing nothing isn’t restricted to the Netherlands. In Sweden they recommend you take a ‘fika’ regularly. In the UK this would be known as a coffee break, but the Swedes have a strict rule that you cannot discuss work during this break, no matter how stressed and busy you are.
“Niksen is suddenly the big thing!,” says Dr Sandi Mann, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and author of The Upside Of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good. “It is really just what I have been advocating with my book. The whole point is that we need time in our lives to have downtime and to reduce our stressors.” So before we all overthink it, maybe it’s time to take a European approach, put the kettle on and take the ten minutes to ourselves.
If you’re struggling with stress, read Shabir’s feature: How To Combat Stress Effectively.