Having NOTHING to do can be pure freedom. Joy. Exhilarating. One of my favorite comedians puts it perfectly here. Have you ever asked an adult their weekend plans, and they respond with "Nothing. Nothing at all."? They almost always have a smile on their face. No plans and no rules can be, well, the best. There are times however, when "doing nothing" ceases to scream "FREEDOM" and starts to yell an overwhelming, "OH NO WHAT AM I DOING." Let me explain the good and bad types of "nothing" and why the bad kind can overwhelm you into oblivion.
1. Relaxing and rejuvenating nothing: You've finally gotten a break from the rat race. You've gone vacation, or maybe just have a free weekend. Your body has officially flipped into "rest and digest" and is clearing toxins and mending broken parts. You're becoming more whole, and gaining health and mental clarity. This can even be achieved by short daily meditation. It's a very conscious, relaxing, rejuvenating type of nothing.
2. Physically disruptive nothing: You're sitting at a desk all day at a job you (maybe) remotely enjoy. You've netflix-binged PAST the point where you're actually paying attention. You're stuck in traffic. You're physically "doing nothing" that your body was created, or has evolved to do. Disruptive nothing often involves staring at a screen for hours with your shoulders slouched forward, i.e. long periods of technology use. So why does this kind of physical nothingness make your body freak out?
You have a brain (see?... Science is easy). Shooting out from your brain you have 12 special nerves called cranial nerves. These nerves are typically pretty short, traveling to your eyes, nose, tongue, stuff in your head, etc. You have a very special cranial nerve, that is very long and wandering: The Vagus Nerve. Not "Vegas" like where your friend's bachelorette party took a weird turn, and now you wince when any time you see a feather boa. It's pronounced the same way, but what we're really going for is vagabond --> homeless wanderer --> the wandering (long) vagus nerve.
Your vagus nerves hangs down off your brain like a string from a balloon. It has 3 parts:
This 3rd part is important because it tells your brain if you're in a safe situation, comfortable, supported, able to relax, or in danger. This part of the Vagus nerve decides "can I chill?" or "should I freak out?" A healthy body and healthy Vagus nerve will be able to digest food properly, remain calm in varying situations, tolerate loud noises and disruptions, and detox from harmful substances.
A weak or irritated vagus nerve leads to *danger alarms* going off at all the wrong times. This can cause emotional outbursts, poor digestion, strange breathing patterns, and that feeling of being ALL THE WAY OVERWHELMED. Life can seem a lot harder than it actually is when your Vagus nerve is on the fritz. Your brain can become frazzled, feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and on the defense, even when everything is fine!
You'd like to feel safe, comfortable, and calm... yes? You'd like to feel supported by your peers, friends, and family? Best to keep that vagus nerve happy and toned then!
This Vagus nerve is so important that researchers are considering a surgical solution. Studies on little mechanical Vagus nerve pacemakers have started as a possible therapy for those with mental health disorders. But that's not available yet, and sliiiiightly more invasive than going for a walk, adding key nutrition, and good friends, so let's start with those instead!