It’s okay to have your head in the clouds.

by , , , and | October 17, 2017 | in A Closer Look | No Comments

With so many assignments to do and places to be, it can be difficult for students to find the time to unwind. We take a closer look at how having downtime affects us in three different ways.

Emotional

Carpe diem, Latin for seize the day, would be a fitting motto for PHS, where students tend to fill every waking minute of their lives with activities, accomplishing as much as they can during their four years. However, while there are students who thrive on a busy schedule, lack of free time has contributed to increased levels of stress, said clinical supervisor at the Wellness Center Alisa Crovetti.

Crovetti estimates that of the approximately 200 students referred to the Wellness Center, almost all bring in concerns about stress related to over-scheduling.

“Some people get greatly gratified by havingl  ots of activities and being busy,” Crovetti said. “I think the line is when you start to notice symptoms of stress.”

These symptoms include difficulty sleeping, agitation, worry, and inability to think clearly, Crovetti said.

“You can feel when you’re on and you’re relaxed, and focused, versus when you’re mind’s jumping around and you can’t stay on a topic,” Corvetti said. “That probably means you’ve gone too far.”

Sometimes these symptoms accumulate to the point where students are unable to come to school. Crovetti said that over the last five years she has seen an increase in this behavior, known as school refusal.

“I don’t think it’s in high school students’ repertoires, or even in college students’ repertoires, to think about self care,” Crovetti said.

Crovetti said teachers and administration should try to discuss strategies for self care.

“Downtime– I don’t know how much you hear people talking about that,” Crovetti said. “I think that should become a more common part of our vocabulary.”

Research during the 1990s found that when the mind is not concentrating on anything in particular, certain regions in the brain actually become more active. Further scientific studies discovered that while daydreaming, the mind enters a state known as default mode network (DMN).

According to reviews of research on DMN at the University of Southern California, daydreaming helps individuals process their daily experiences, and resolve fundamental tension. Authors of the review found that the mind undergoes a thorough self evaluation while daydreaming.

Crovetti said that what works for some students to achieve downtime might not work for others.

“People need to think about what works for them,” Crovetti said. “For some kids it’s watching Netflix for a couple hours; it’s binging on a video game; it’s getting on social media; it’s taking a walk; it’s hanging out with friends.”

Crovetti believes some of those activities are more beneficial than others. She said it can be dangerous when kids are spending too much time on social media or playing video games.

“Meditation, exercise, walking in nature– I think those are the superlatives,” Crovetti said. “I don’t think [social media and video games] are necessarily resting the mind, or resting the brain,” Crovetti said.

However, she also said that to achieve downtime, the mind does not necessarily have to be fully at rest.

“Even if [the activity] involves the mind, like reading a book, that can be really good,” Crovetti said.

According to research at the University of Sussex in England, reading for just six minutes reduced stress by 68 percent.

After a long school week, senior Katie Fraser can spend hours over the weekends in her room drawing.

“When I don’t have free time, that’s really stressful for me,” Fraser said. “It freaks me out if I can’t have that time to settle down and be with my own thoughts.”

Last year, due to her workload, Fraser said she had very little free time.

“I think it’s like most important as an upperclassmen not to overschedule. That’s the Piedmont High School curse,” Fraser said. “It happens here especially because it’s such a competitive environment.”

Senior Genevieve Raushenbush, who fills her time with extracurriculars such as crew and choir, said that she focuses on compartmentalizing, staying in the moment with each activity, to ensure she makes the most of her downtime.

“I take my downtime very seriously,” Raushenbush said. “I’m at complete rest. I love walking my dog with friends and making smoothies.”

Raushenbush said she tries not to ruin the integrity of the activity she is doing by being distracted and adding the weight of other commitments to it.

“I think overscheduling contributes to a lack of down time and sleep,” Crovetti said. “And then it’s a really negative cycle, because students are less capable of getting their work done and more stressed.”

Physical

“I do crew at Oakland Strokes. Crew is six days a week, but sometimes we get Wednesdays off and we always get Sundays off, and that’s from 4 to 6:30. Saturdays are mornings from 7 to 10:30,” senior Genevieve Raushenbush said. “Then I do choir, and I have two nights a week of that.”

Although students continue to fill their schedules with school, sports and other extracurriculars, there are benefits to having unscheduled portions of the day and time to rest, too.

“I love every activity that I do, but I will admit that I have a little bit too much going on,” said Raushenbush.

According to Dr. Samuele Marcora, a leading researcher in the field of brain endurance, downtime is extremely important and can have a drastic effect on how an athlete performs. A tired, busy mind can often result in a tired body, which can reduce an athlete’s physical abilities.

“I guess I get some [free time] on the weekends, but right now it’s kind of filled up with college apps. I’ll take a nap or something on the weekends. I try to get stuff done during my free seventh, and then as soon as I come home from crew, I eat dinner, and then I shower and do my homework and go straight to bed,” Raushenbush said.

Marcora said that athletic performance is clinically proven to be hindered after a mentally fatiguing task such as school work or any unfamiliar activity, and it can also increase someone’s perception of effort, making the task seem much more difficult.

Marcora said, “The longer an athlete focuses on a monotonous task, the greater the buildup of a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which can cause mental fatigue in athletes and significantly impair their performance.”

The correlation between a tired brain and a tired body stresses the importance of downtime. Downtime is crucial for athletes if they wish to perform at an optimal level.

“I take my downtime very seriously. I’m at complete rest,” Raushenbush said, “that could be with friends- lying down listening to music or talking, and asking each other questions. I tend to associate downtime with minimal movement.”

Downtime is necessary to strengthen the brain and the body in order to prepare it for more difficult tasks.

During physical activity, an athlete’s body experiences two types of fatigue: peripheral fatigue and central fatigue. Peripheral fatigue is centered in the muscles, but central fatigue originates in the brain. Athletes can fight central fatigue through a neural circuit that has two phases: inhibition and facilitation. Inhibition occurs when the body tells the brain that the muscles are tired, which allows the athlete to slow down. However, if the athlete still has enough energy, the inhibitory signals can be weakened through facilitation, which is the ability to continue exercising. Once the body uses up all of its available resources, facilitation must stop because the athlete has reached exhaustion and cannot continue exercising.

For athletes who do not receive sufficient rest, the facilitation circuit is weakened. This results in a reduced athletic performance.

This means that recovery becomes very important to staying strong and healthy. One of the main ways that athletes recuperate is through adequate amounts of sleep.

Raushenbush does her best to get eight hours of sleep. “I normally go to bed around 10:30. I really try for that, but sometimes when I have a ton of homework, then it turns into 11, although I really can’t do productive work past 11:15, tops,” she said.

In other cases, the exercise itself can become a time to rest and recover. For instance, ultramarathoner Sarah Lavender Smith uses her runs throughout her week as a time to unplug. She said that her runs are a form of active meditation, or downtime, and they allow her to work through her more difficult thoughts.

Smith enjoys the habit and routine of her weekday runs, as well as the feeling that comes with it. However, the physical sensation is not the only part of Smith’s running. She also said that she does her best thinking when she is running on the trails.

Downtime serves an important purpose in athletics and other aspects of life. Although downtime allows people and athletes to stay healthier, it does not necessarily make things easier.

Raushenbush said, “Don’t do things if they don’t actually excite you and make you happy, but if you like something that you’re doing, then do whatever you can to do it, so long as you are making healthy decisions for yourself.”

Educational

      BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. It is 7 a.m. and your alarm blares into  your  ear. You eat breakfast, gather your school supplies and begin your busy day at school. After taking multiple tests and and completing hours of classwork,  you finally get home and now it is time to complete homework and study for tests and quizzes you must take the next day. This takes up the rest of your day and it is incredibly tedious. You then finally go to bed, and the cycle repeats the next day.

School, homework, and extracurriculars. All three of these aspects of life take away from a high school student’s much needed downtime, said president of the Challenge Success Club and senior Sarah Machle. 

Machle is also a student representative on the Challenge Success school committee. The committee is run by a team of administrators, including counselor Chris Hartford, Machle said.

Hartford said that the administration and Challenge Success Club have already attempted to help students increase downtime. One example of this is the late starts on Tuesday and Friday.

“[Challenge Success] is an organization that works with schools that helps students decrease and reduce stress,” Machle said “It works with individual schools to evaluate the school’s leading issues regarding climate and culture on the social and emotional level.”

Machle said that the Challenge Success Club and committee is working together on determining how productive and meaningful homework is.

“There is a false belief that by creating a life where everyone is stressed out, we are then training people to know how to be stressed out for college,” Hartford said. “Whereas, a lot of research says that it doesn’t help you deal with more stress later; it just makes you much more stressed out at the time.”

According to an article from Scientific Learning at  www.scilearn.com, downtime is incredibly important for the average learners brain. The brain uses as much as 20 percent of the bodies energy while working. Simple acts like resting, meditating, and even blinking help the body and mind rest.

Machle said she has noticed that many students immediately have to go do homework or to a sports practice after school

“This is just not a sustainable lifestyle,” Machle said. “A large part of Challenge Success is making sure that students have that [downtime], and a lot of that stems from homework, so that is something that Piedmont High School is focusing on.”

Freshman Jill Coleman agreed that homework takes away from her downtime.

Coleman said that after school she comes home and tries to finish her homework before soccer practice, yet most of the time, Coleman finds herself doing more homework after she gets home from practice.

“[Downtime] is when you are not doing anything that is required,” Coleman said “When I’m doing homework, I’m never super focused on the material, I’m more focused on getting it done.”

Sophomore Kami Zimmer said that downtime is when you can sit down without a single worry on your mind.

Zimmer said she does not have much downtime, partly because she dances through an organization called California Academy of Performing Arts.

“With dancing and homework combined, I don’t have much downtime, which is pretty stressful,” Zimmer said. “I think downtime is incredibly important.”

In addition to daily homework and other extracurriculars, studying for tests takes away a large portion of downtime as well, Machle said.

“If you have a lot of homework and you are spending a lot of time on it, then it is harder to stay focused and process information,” Machle said “So [homework] becomes less productive.”