When I was in journalism school back in the early ’90s we studied page layout and design, and were instructed to give our printed pages some white space for the eye to rest. Imagine the layout of a modern magazine like “Real Simple” and you know what I mean. White space on a page makes the article and photo much easier to see and assimilate than a sheet full of gray text, like those old-fashioned front pages of “The Wall Street Journal.”
What does that have to do with health, you may ask? It’s my new theory of modern life that I call “The White Space Problem.” Our days used to have “white space” built in – elevator and bus rides, waiting in line, being put on hold. Yes, they were boring. They also gave us chances to zone out, think random thoughts, or just be quiet.
Now what do we do with those little snatches of time? Check our email or the latest headlines, futz with our apps, or pick a song off the mp3 player. None of those things are inherently bad, but a life full of them will look like that solid mass of gray newsprint text rather than the refreshing magazine layout. And remember which one makes it easier for you to digest information.
I told my husband – a very busy worker who gets 200 emails a day — about my white space theory a few weeks ago, and he has since made an effort to take those little breaks in the day to zone out and give his overworked brain a rest. He no longer checks his handheld in elevators or while walking to or from meetings, and thinks this has reduced his stress and made him feel less like he is living in a pinball machine, getting bounced from task to task. The chance to recharge makes him feel more productive.
Even if you don’t have a smart-phone on your person at all times, it is helpful to try and go screen-free (yes, even TV) for the last hour of your day. I’ve suggested this to my clients who are having trouble sleeping, and they have found it makes a difference. Read a book or listen to music for that hour, and you may be surprised.