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Learn To Do Nothing! 

Expert Interview with Journalist & Editor in Mental Health Davia Sills: 

Why creative expression, high productivity and good mental health require intentional breaks. How journaling can become your super power and how social media can be navigated safely. Find the video interview and the full transcript below!

Video Interview with Journalist & Editor in Mental Health Davia Sills

K: Welcome, Davia. I’m so excited to have you here. You’re a journalist, you’re a writer on Psychology Today. You’re an editor, social media marketing consultant, screenwriter. Can you tell me why you say that I should “do nothing” and how doing nothing can actually be beneficial for my mental health? 

D: Well, this is actually one of my favorite topics because I myself – as well as many of my clients who are successful in their areas-  we all have trouble stopping work. It’s difficult to find that balance between who we are at work and who we are at home. And it’s so important for our mental health, especially these days, when a lot of us are working from home and those boundaries are blurred even further.

So the great thing about doing nothing – for those of us who are highly productive people- is that it actually increases your productivity

You need that chance to do nothing in order to give your brain a chance to learn something new, to gather information and turn it into long term memory. You also need that time to be more creative and not just go with your first solution to a problem, but have the time and space to make different connections, think more deeply and come up with more divergent and creative solutions. So it can be very helpful even to people who don’t think that they need it. 

K: I imagine a student or someone you know in school, how can they apply this? They’re bound to a schedule, they have homework… 

D: That’s a great point. It often feels like when you’re in school, you don’t have a lot of time. You’re always running from one thing to the next. But the good news is: you don’t need to have a long break to “do nothing.” Research has found even short breaks can be helpful for your brain and help refresh it. That’s the good news for students who are in school. Especially for young people, those breaks are needed in a time in your life when you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do. You’re still really getting in touch with your identity. Taking those breaks and exploring things that are interesting to you. Exploring curiosities, resting and relaxing can help give you the space you need to really reflect on your values and what makes you you. So it can be extremely helpful for all ages, really, but definitely for college students. 2

K: When you describe this, I immediately see students and professionals of all ages turn to online devices and scroll through social media. What’s your take on this? Social media being a major part of our lives – is that what you mean by “doing nothing?” 

D: Well, I’m so glad you brought that up because it’s definitely not social media and other things that we do online. The games we play can be a lot of fun, but you’re focusing your attention on them and that can be draining in its own way. Doing nothing is like when you’re a kid: you are just given this free time. Maybe you have a set of toys or games, but there are going to be those times when no one’s watching you. And those are those times when you make up your own games and you make believe and you have this room for creativity and fun and play.

Child playing on the beach with pebble stones, making up her own games

And it’s really important that as adults, we give ourselves that time. Time away from screens, time away from content, times to just feel whatever we’re feeling. And, you know, creative writing can be really helpful with that. Creative writing is one of the passion areas of mine, and I think it’s very important for your mental health. 

One of the things that I’ve done is just to take ten minutes, whether it’s in the morning or it’s at the end of the day: just write out whatever comes to mind. No judgment, no looking at it afterwards. Just get out whatever is on top of your mind. It doesn’t have to be perfect. No one is going to read it. But there is a catharsis in doing this, and it is helpful. It’s one way that you can really get in touch with yourself. Not like through a device, even though devices are great. We learn so much from them. They’re a source of entertainment, they’re a source of service in our daily lives. So much of what we do during the day, like ordering our food, getting our morning news etc. happens on our devices. We can even get exercise videos and education on our devices. It has become such a major part of our life. By the same token, it’s really important to have that time away from the device. 

K: Absolutely. Now, I know quite a few young people who say that they would like to do these morning pages or the journaling part, but writing is not their thing. So they turn to voice or video recording to get out all their thoughts. They would rant. They would vent. And it helps them. Does the benefit also apply to this kind of liberating yourself? 

D: Absolutely. And I love that you say that, because we know ourselves best and not everyone is a writer, not everyone is a professional writer, and not everyone feels like writing is the best tool for them. So as you said, sometimes they’re more comfortable just talking, sometimes they’re more comfortable doing something physical like painting or sculpting or some sort of art. That’s not my strength personally, but a lot of people can get into the same flow. Flow is so important! It’s another way as we’re talking about doing nothing or giving yourself a relaxation activity. It enables you to get into this mindset and this flow where we are able to gather, to get more creative and we’re able to do better problem solving. So there are so many ways to get there. 

Student recording voice memo on the Earkick mood & anxiety tracker

K: How about going back and revisiting whatever you’ve written or recorded? Is that a must to reap the full benefits of this expressive communication? 

D: I feel like that depends. And you need to set your intention beforehand. Sometimes it’s good to just get it out and to not go back there because the work that’s been going on inside you, is already happening inside you. Perhaps if you’re working on a specific problem in your life that you don’t know how to deal with. Maybe you have something at work, like a presentation coming up that you’re very stressed about and maybe that’s the subject of your writing. Then it could be good after a time away from it to go back and see what you’re really worried about and then take that a step further and see: “Well, what are things I can do? What are some steps I can take that could help me benefit?” 

So much stress and anxiety occurs when we’re worried about these worst case scenarios that never happen

Sometimes it’s good to just challenge that worry and say: “First of all, if this happened, would it really be that bad? What are the real implications for my life?” and “I can’t do anything about this part of it, but maybe I can brainstorm some ways that I could be the most successful and have the best possible outcome.”

K: Yes! Speaking of worry and anxiety, there’s quite a number of people who turn to social media or Google to find answers, to find inspiration, to read up on their discomfort. What is your take on that? 

D: Well, as with so many things with social media, it can be mixed. Some people don’t have the knowledge and language to describe what they’re going through and what they’re feeling. And when they see someone on social media who’s saying “this is my story, and this is what I’ve been through,” and they can really relate to it, that can bring a kind of emotional peace and that can help. With the assistance of a mental health care provider, they can dig further into that and see if that is indeed their problem and what they can do to have better mental health. But there’s also a flip side, of course, which is when we see these influencers on social media and we want so much to be like them, especially if we admire them. And a lot of times on social media, you’re getting the sort of surface level cut, you’re not getting the deep cut. And so you can hear it like a horoscope. You can hear the symptoms, and you can say: “Well, that does kind of apply to me in my life,” but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a certain condition. And I want to caution young people, especially: like. You’re hearing things and it’s always good to check that out and follow up with a healthcare provider and be sure. Especially if you have symptoms that are concerning to you. But just because you’re, for instance, sad one day doesn’t mean you have major depressive disorder. Just because you’re really stressed out about your upcoming final doesn’t mean you have generalized anxiety disorder. And part of mental health is we all need to take care of our mental health and make these lifestyle habits and things that are good for us in our life. But self diagnosing can be hard for us and make it seem a lot more challenging to overcome our symptoms than it has to be. 

K: In my case, I would turn to tracking my symptoms or tracking how many times I really feel sad or how many times I actually have these symptoms. I would want to make sure that I, on one hand, don’t pathologize what I feel and on the other hand catch early signs of real disorders. What’s your take on that? 

D: Absolutely. I’m so glad that you have an app (Earkick)  that can help with that because a lot of the time when we’re feeling bad in the moment, it’s hard to tell how big a part of our life that actually is. In our moment, in our present – it can feel overwhelming at the time. But if we have that longer term tracking, as you said, it’s a lot easier to say: “Okay, well, this is an understandable brief period of my life where a friend betrayed me and I’m upset about it,” or “this temporary thing happened, and it’s really bothering me, but I’m generally doing okay.” Or perhaps it is the early signs that there is a mental health condition that could be looked into further.

Screenshot of the Earkick mood & anxiety tracker app that allows users to journal effortlessly

K: A part of this is also educating yourself and getting the right information and also the right inspiration, I imagine. I wonder what your best practices, your advice to people is, is if they want to inform themselves online. What are the good sides of it and what are the caveats?

D: Right. Online and social media can be great places to connect with people from all over the world who have shared similar experiences to yours. And it can also be a great way to learn about things that you might not otherwise know, including different types of conditions and problems. So when someone is consuming online content, the first thing to remember is we consume a lot of it. And all of it affects us for both good and bad. And we’re not always aware of how deeply it affects us, but it does. So one of the things I would say is: How do you feel after you consume a piece of content? Do you leave it feeling like you’ve been helped, like you have a positive, upbeat experience? Does it feel like this is something that will be of benefit to you? Or do you leave it feeling like: “Oh, my goodness, I have so many problems. My mental health is in this completely horrible state. I have to change my life immediately?”

Both experiences are ones that we’ve had online. And it’s just better to be able to come away from something and feel like it’s adding value to your life and like it’s making your life better. And that goes for evaluating the content that you’re looking for too. This is very important, especially for young people online. You have to look at the source. Are you looking at content that’s coming from a respectable institution of some kind, of a known brand, of a known organization? Are you looking at content from someone who has an expert background? Degrees are one way of looking at that. If someone has a PhD or an MD you are more likely able to trust them when they’re talking about their topic of interest, that the information they’re giving you is accurate. Look at the source and also look at the content itself. How much detail does it go into? Is it backed by research, especially research that has been peer reviewed? Are they able to provide examples, especially from science, that you click and say “okay, this is not just one person’s opinion, that this is something that we know right now based on the information we have in the world of science.” So I would say that those are all important things to consider when you’re consuming content. 

K: Tying back to your previous point of healthy self expression, do you have any advice for people on how to express themselves in a healthy and positive way? Not only on the journal or on the app, but on social media? When sharing with others or being the person who encourages others or makes others feel heard and seen? What are your tips there?

D: I’ve worked with a couple of clients who have stories that they really want to share, and that can be such a powerful tool. It’s good for the general public to be more aware of and educated about what you’ve gone through and your mental health experiences. It can also be really strong and good for you because you have the power to decide what and how much of your story you’re sharing. That’s so important! 

One of the things that I tell people is not to rush into sharing because you have the control. You don’t want to give that away. And so when you’re sharing your story, really think about it.

You have to be emotionally ready and in a place where you are ready to share it, where it would be healthy and cathartic for you

You have to be aware that sometimes there will be backlash. That’s just a natural function of the internet and social media. So you also have to be mentally prepared for that possibility and be able to let it just sort of wash over you and go away. Set your intention for sharing. Is it:  “I just want to share my experiences?” Are you trying to reach a specific audience? Maybe it’s really important for you because when you are a young adult, you are going through this mental health experience and no one told you what to expect and what that was like, and that it could be whatever your mental health condition is. And maybe it’s very important to you that it is for young adults who are going through a similar experience. Maybe they have no tools and no way of knowing that that’s what they’re going through than through your story. They can figure out more of that and apply it to their own life and be able to take that either to themselves or to a mental health care provider and be able to say: “I’d really like to look further into this.”

K: Even if you’re dealt difficult cards in terms of mental health or health, you can turn the tables on that and become the person who helps others. Now, when it comes to professionals, therapists, psychiatrists, doctors who need a better presence online or need to express themselves in a way that’s beneficial to many, that scales their knowledge to many: I know that you help these people too. Can you speak to the importance of being very well prepared when you hit online channels?

D: It’s so important and especially when you’re in a profession like a therapist where confidentiality and privacy are so important. You would never share a patient story without their consent. You would never delve into that. And being prepared is good because when you’re thinking about the examples that you said and the stories that you share, you have to be very careful not to reveal any confidential information. Talking in a natural way is so important too, because it’s so easy to get clinical and be like: “These are all the symptoms in the DSM” – it’s not as helpful or relatable! You always want to come at it as if you are having one on one conversation with your audience, especially on social media. That’s very important because that makes it more likely that you’re going to be yourself and that you’re going to talk about your area of expertise in a relatable way.

K: Absolutely. And maybe you can also give us an idea on how you help enterprises or entrepreneurs express themselves in a productive and effective way? 

D: Sure. One of the first things that I do is to figure out what your voice is. Are you more of a serious academic type? Do you like to be a little more laid back? Do you like to add a little humor? So the very first thing is to get to know who you are and what your voice is. And that’s regardless of what you’re talking about on social media. It’s always a good first step. The other important thing is knowing who you are talking to, because that helps you with why does it matter? Who are you talking to? Who are you giving this content to? What can you add that’s of value? And that is not just sounding like every other blog post out there. The great thing is, as we go through life, we all gather experiences and we all have interesting and helpful things that we can share with others. And the key is finding out what they are and then being able to talk about them in a relatable way online.

K: Wow.  I imagine that once you gave birth to your blog post, to your poem, to whatever expressive piece of content you make, that there is a great way to step away from that and do nothing? 

D: Once you’ve created something and you want to step back and do nothing, I recommend a couple of things: Because I’m a creative writing person, I like creative writing. You can also try a writing prompt if you want something a little more directed. For instance, imagine you’re in a coffee shop and the person that you either, most or least want to talk to at that moment comes in. What happens next? Things like that can be a great boost for your creativity. Also consider things that are simple as going for a walk. Creative people throughout time have gone on long walks to help give their brains the time to both take in the natural beauty around them and to refocus on what’s actually there outside to get inspiration. So doing something simple like taking a walk can be very helpful, especially if you live somewhere where there’s some nature around. Sometimes you live in a city, and that’s not possible, but there are parks that you can walk by. You also could think about something that you’ve always wanted to try and haven’t tried. You could pick up an instrument, or you could just turn on your favorite song and dance to it for a couple of minutes. 

The important thing is that you’re feeling the value is not on what you’re doing, but on who you are, because we spend so much of our time doing, and sometimes it’s important to just be

K: That’s a great final statement. You spoke to gratitude and to the moments to take and just be. You have given us so many great insights and tips that I feel rich. And I hope the community will, too. Is there a way to reach you, to reach out to you if people would want to have your help? 

D: Of course. I run a company called Storymoreconsulting. Thank you so much for allowing me to come on your show, I appreciate it. I have really enjoyed speaking with you, and I hope that what I’ve said will be of help to people. And just remember, mental health is important for all of us, and we deserve to take the time for it. 

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