What is Niksen?

Mental Health

We explore the Dutch concept that embraces the true art of doing nothing, on purpose…

We’re so accustomed to defining our worth by how busy we are that the art of relaxation has been lost for many of us.

But while this idea of ‘free time’ might not be familiar territory, it’s essential ground to cover. This is niksen, the lifestyle concept of doing nothing, and doing it on purpose.

What is niksen?

The idea of ‘doing nothing’ (the literal translation of niksen) might not sound like anything new, but it’s the intentional part of the act that’s so important. It’s a way of life that puts time for, and dedication to, yourself at the top of the agenda. And it isn’t just another costly wellness trend.

“I realised that people were fed up with wellness trends telling them they weren’t doing enough, and should work harder at improving themselves,” writes Olga Mecking, author of Niksen: Embracing the Dutch art of doing nothing. “This is actually one of the reasons people relate to the concept. It’s the easiest kind of wellness you could possibly imagine.”

Olga explains that to truly understand niksen, you have to unpick your perception of ‘nothing’. “It’s time we start calling a spade a spade, and niksen niksen. If we are browsing Facebook or chilling out with Netflix, let’s call those what they are and not say we’re ‘doing nothing’.”

“Time alone, to press pause and simply let thoughts pass you by, can induce feelings of relaxation, creativity, and cognitive clarity”

Getting started

Niksen, at first, is trial and error. It takes time to build up your ability to be comfortable with doing nothing. You could try watching the world go by through the window for 10 minutes, lying on your bed staring at the ceiling or, my personal favourite, watching your cats play together for a few moments. To niks (do nothing) can take any form that suits you and for however long you feel comfortable with.

Once you’ve managed 10 minutes, try working up towards an hour. If that’s too much all in one go, look for little pockets of niksen-time at work. Instead of gulping down a sandwich at your desk, take five minutes on a bench outside, simply sitting and letting thoughts come and go as they please. Nisken is about rebalancing all areas of your life.

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Why should I embrace niksen?

In Happiful’s 2020 survey on stress, 73% of respondents said they were worried about their mental health and wellbeing, with 68% sharing that they’ve been extremely stressed since September 2020. We know that stress is a driver in many health conditions, particularly as we accelerate in the modern world.

“If left unchecked, chronic and excessive levels of stress (which are often work-related) can accumulate to the point of burnout,” says counsellor Laurele Mitchell. “Burnout can be characterised as feeling drained and exhausted – both physically and emotionally – lacking in motivation, feeling increasingly negative and overwhelmed, and, on occasion, helpless and hopeless. Having been going at 100mph for so long, it’s as if we abruptly, and often unexpectedly, run out of gas, rendering us incapable of keeping up and meeting never-ending demands.”

You don’t have to accept that chronic stress is the way of life: niksen can be a way of life, too.

Finding balance

Laurele suggests that one of the key benefits of niksen is in enabling the body to rebalance into the ‘rest and digest’ phase, which can be helpful when recovering from burnout. “By allowing ourselves to slow down, to do nothing more than stare into space and simply be for a moment, we afford our frazzled minds and bodies some much-needed respite from the hamster’s wheel of constantly and unrelentingly striving for achievement and productivity. Thus allowing our parasympathetic nervous system to work its magic, bringing us back into balance, and restoring at least a modicum of calm.

“Allowing our minds to simply wander can actually foster creativity, enhance problem-solving, and boost productivity. So it seems that doing nothing is indeed time well spent!”

Time alone, to press pause and simply let thoughts pass you by, can induce feelings of relaxation, creativity, and cognitive clarity. It’s time to do more niks, on purpose.


Laurele Mitchell is a senior accredited person-centred counsellor, specialising in childhood trauma and relationship issues.

Find out more about finding balance in your life at counselling-directory.org.uk

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