Do you feel fatigued from a mind constantly on the go? A challenging dynamic of anxiety and depression is the space internal dialogue takes up in a person’s mind. I talk to clients whose mind is constantly on the go, with swirling thoughts and internal chatter.
Sometimes, the thought content involves events from the past; things like thinking back over conflict or stressful events, replaying it over in one’s mind, and playing out different responses. Other times, the content involves anticipation of future events. Usually, the event or upcoming personal interaction feels scary or unsure to the person. This can cause their mind to explode with images of the anticipated situation and various ways to respond to different scenarios that might arise.
Mind chatter usually overstays its welcome and leaves a person exhausted and unsure how to stop it. It also interferes with sleep and concentration, steals joy, and taxes a person’s body. Do you resonate with this experience? If so, this blog is for you!
The question on the table is, how can you get a break? How can you hit the pause button, even for a brief moment, to allow a time of rest? Here are three practices that you can utilize to hit the pause button on your internal thoughts. These practices create space in your mind to bring better rest, less anxiety, balanced thinking, and improved overall health.
These strategies are designed to train your brain to do something different than it is currently doing. Expect that your mind will wander and get distracted while you engage with these activities. The training happens at the point when you notice your mind wandering. Three important things need to happen at this point.
- Bring your attention back to the activity you were engaged in. Over time, this will get easier.
- Avoid judgement towards yourself when you catch your mind wandering. The temptation is to be critical towards yourself: “See, I can’t even do something as simple as this.” You are practicing something new, including the practice of non-judgement.
- Start small. The goal is to engage every day.
If you have never done anything like this before, I suggest trying one of these for 5 minutes a day. If that seems like too much, try for 2 minutes. Over time, you can increase the length of time and frequency of your practice. Find a quiet space where you will be uninterrupted. Get comfortable and give one of these strategies a try.
Strategy 1: Senses
Close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. Notice what that feels like in your body. Then tune into what you hear around you. See if you can name five things you hear. Next, draw your attention to your sense of touch. Can you notice five things that you feel, such as the way your shirt feels around your neck or the pressure of the chair on your back. Now, do you notice any smells around you? It is ok if you cannot find five, but pause and notice what you smell. Next, open your eyes and name five things that catch your visual attention. Take two more deep, slow breaths in and out. Notice how your body feels now that you are done with this practice.
Strategy 2: Mind Tracing
This strategy can be particularly effective at night when you are trying to go to sleep. You can start in the same way as the first strategy with a couple of deep breaths. Then, imagine the outline of the number “10.” In your mind, imagine slowly tracing the outline of the number. Imagine what color you are using. Will you color in the number or add a pattern? Once done, move on to the number “9.” Continue this count-down until you finish with the number “1”. If you are using this as a sleep strategy, keep the color and the pattern the same each night. The consistent pattern will start to inform your brain that it is time to sleep. If this is not being used at night, you can try this with real objects, such as a leaf or a flower, slowly following each curve and line with your eyes.
Strategy 3: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Again, start with a few deep slow breaths in and out. Close your eyes. Starting at your feet, notice how they feel. Any pain, discomfort, or tension? Now curl your toes and tense the muscles in your feet for about 10 seconds, then release. If this is uncomfortable, try tensing a little less. Do this one more time. Notice how your feet feel. Then, move on to your calves and do the same thing. Continue up your legs, then to your back, shoulders, arms, hands, and even your face. When you’re done, take a couple more deep slow breaths and notice how your body feels.
Give one of these strategies a try this week. If one is not helpful to you, try another. Sometimes it helps to have someone facilitate these strategies for you, at least at first, in order to get the hang of them and discover what works best for you. I would be happy to meet with you to help you discover ways to bring rest to your busy mind, and develop greater insight regarding the thoughts that get in the way of the things you want most in life. Give me a call today!
Written by therapist Amie Bilson
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