Niksen and the calm of doing nothing

Deer in Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

We’re stressed and we need to slow down once in a while. I should be the last one giving that advice and the first taking it. As it turns out, I’m certainly not alone. Our entire western society is insanely stressed and on the edge of a collective burnout. Our world of nonstop running, constant media interaction, families, work, and social commitments have us all burning the candle at both ends – and, sometimes, down the middle.

Some people have no idea just how stressed they are and might not even understand the concept. Well, put simply, stress, in this context, is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from demanding circumstances.

Most of the time, people do very little to intentionally reduce stress. In fact, many stress-relieving activities people undertake can have negative effects, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, using drugs, or other activity wrongly perceived as “relaxing.” And, left unmanaged, stress becomes a major contributor to any number of health problems ranging from insomnia to tension headaches.

In a January 8th article on, Ernesto L. Schiffrin, M.D., Ph.D., physician-in-chief at Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital, and professor and vice chair of research for the Department of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal noted, “When stress is excessive, it can contribute to everything from high blood pressure, also called hypertension, to asthma to ulcers to irritable bowel syndrome.”

We should all really try to power down more often. But, instead of quiet downtime, most of us fill the void with an endless succession of movies, television, books, video games, or other assorted entertainment media. Even exercise alone may not be enough to help because there is stress associated with that as well. It can be tough to make time for it or force yourself to get through a 20-minute workout when you are thinking about work or the kids, and so on. So, what can you do?

Last week, the official website of NBC’s “Today Show,” one story mentions a Dutch practice called, “niksen,” which loosely translates to, “do nothing.” According to the article, over the last decade or so the practice has become a common method of managing daily stress.

The idea is simple, just sit and do nothing for a few minutes every hour of your workday, and for about an hour on your days off. Niksen differs from the more popular practice here in the states of meditation for two simple reasons.

In my experience, meditation often seems to require relaxing sound effects or music, incense burners, and a special place to sit in odd yoga positions. Niksen seems simpler – no special music or training required, just sit there, quietly, and do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sounds easy enough, right? Not to me.

Just like everyone else, I am overloaded with personal and professional responsibilities, exacerbated by the fact that I work independently and downtime is usually spent trying to sell new work or get administrative tasks completed.

In my mind, niksen had the same issue for me as meditation. Not to sound like an old Columbo episode, but I’ve had a tough time finding motive and opportunity for either. When you have a family and a mortgage, and trying to keep yourself physically healthy as well, it’s tough to sit idle. What tiny amounts of free time I have are dedicated to household chores or exercise.

But, from what I’ve learned, that’s precisely why we need it. The article explains that we are constantly inundated with signals – people talking to us, checking our mobile devices, surfing the internet, or listening to radio or television. To do absolutely nothing, with no tech, no input from anywhere, just sit comfortably for a few moments can do wonders.

What has helped me to at least give this concept a chance is to think about it just as I do my fitness routine. I’m not really “doing nothing,” but instead contributing to my overall mental and physical health.

Just like going to the gym, I’m making an investment of time that may actually save you money in the long run by helping to protect your health. So give it a try.
Deer in Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. More at

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. More at