What’s “Niksen” and Can It Help You Be a Better Mom?

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Are you currently feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, or exhausted?

Perhaps the better question for any Mom right now, as we reach the one-year anniversary of pandemic lockdowns, is “Are there any of us not feeling overwhelmed or burnt out right now?”

It’s been an entire year of almost constant stress, uncertainty, and crisis-mode existence. As parents, we’ve not only been dealing with our own issues surrounding health and work, but we’ve also been struggling with keeping our kids both physically and mentally healthy. I don’t know a single mother who hasn’t been overwhelmed with worry at some point during the past year.

Our coping mechanisms have been varied. Many of us have spent part of quarantine “free” time baking, binging Netflix series, purging closets, doomscrolling, taking long walks or hikes, and doing puzzles. We’ve made it a point to try and stay busy to avoid family anxiety and boredom.

But what if a specific form of “boredom” is exactly what many of us need?

I recently read the fascinating book Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing. In it, author Olga Mecking, a writer and journalist based in the Netherlands, suggests that the Dutch people are some of the happiest in the world, because their culture embraces taking the time to “niks” – a conscious choice to sit back, let go, and do nothing at all.

niksenLike most Americans, I’ve often felt the pressure to constantly be doing something. Even our “relaxation” time tends to be full of things that keep our brains occupied – working out, watching movies, reading, and socializing with friends. None of these activities really give us any time to de-clutter our minds. And most of us have been conditioned to feel that we’re being lazy or we’re “bad” parents if we spend any time doing nothing at all.

But science and advice from the world’s leading experts on happiness and productivity show that taking niks breaks to do nothing can improve your creativity, productivity, and overall well-being. In essence, embracing niksen is giving your brain permission to simply stop churning and daydream for a short time.

It’s a form of mindfulness, but one that I’ve found is easier to practice than meditation, with no emphasis on trying to rid your brain of certain thoughts. It’s also easier to do in different settings, with or without people and noises going on around you.

Here are a couple of my favorite ways to niks. The first one is to sit in my yard in a comfortable chair and just watch the reflections of pool water gently dancing on the stones of our water feature. A similarly easy way is to lie on the grass and watch the clouds in the sky. When inside, you can sit or lie on the floor and gaze at the textured patterns on a ceiling, a fabric pillow or blanket, or watch a fireplace – real and screensaver versions both work fine. For me personally, staring at something that has some gentle movement works best, like leaves on a tree or fish swimming in a tank.

niksenYou want to just get into that zone, letting your mind wander off, no matter what is going on around you. This is what is so great about niksen. You can do it while you wait in line to get into Trader Joe’s, at your work desk, or when you’re sitting in your car waiting to pick up your kid from practice.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling more peaceful and patient with your kids after just a ten-minute niks session, and you may also find yourself coming up with a great idea or a helpful solution for something that’s been bothering you for days. It’s worth looking into because it’s free, requires no equipment, and we all need mental breaks from the constant bombardment of all the things.

So, let the laundry sit for a little longer. Turn off your phone. Niks for ten minutes and daydream – it’s good for you.

For more information, check out Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing (2021) here.

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