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Give Your Mind a Break

Give-your-mind-a-break
By Diane Berry #102219

Question: We have a busy life, and much of the time I feel I am going in 16 different directions. Even when traveling or vacationing, my mind seems to be spinning out of control. How can I stop this?
Dear Consumed,
We are all busy these days, and even when we are retired or traveling, our minds tend to become consumed with the mindless chatter of everyday stress. I am assuming that you already have explored reducing the unnecessary stressors in your life.
Several quick ways to do that are to make a list of how you choose to spend your time and the things you want to be doing. Then make a complementary list, keeping track for several weeks or a month, of how you are actually spending your time. When you are through with the month, go through your list and mark each of the activities you are spending time on that is not on your “choice” list. Each month, try to eliminate at least one of those things from your plans. While you will not be able to eliminate all unpleasant tasks, at the end of the year, you should be doing at least 12 fewer things that you do not want to do than at the beginning of the year. For some of the others, perhaps you could make arrangements to barter with your partner or friends. For example, if you hate laundry and your partner hates cleaning, you agree to clean while he or she does the wash. The result: You will both be happier and have more time for things you either enjoy or don’t mind doing.

But there will still be those things you have to do that you do not enjoy. After all, who enjoys paying bills or preparing to file your taxes? The only person I can think of is my accountant. For those things you cannot avoid and must endure, one terrific solution to this problem is practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a quality of awareness that is cultivated by paying attention to the present moment, being in the here and now. Here are some tips for how to do it:
1 • Just Breathe
Often we are preoccupied (as you have described) with the past or future (“What did she say?” Or “How will I ever get all of the things done that I need to do?”). As a result, the present moment, the present opportunity to choose how you want to spend your time, is lost. Practicing mindfulness keeps us in the present moment. Thus we avoid automatically responding to whatever we encounter throughout the day. One easy way to do this is by getting in touch with our senses through our breath.

2 • Focus on Your Feelings
Another way to cultivate mindfulness is to focus on your feelings. Pay attention as you walk, drive or sit, to the feelings in your arms and legs. Mentally catalog those feelings for yourself. Some examples might include, “My arms are feeling heavy,” or “my legs are feeling very relaxed as I walk.” The more you pay attention to those feelings, the more you are present in the current moment.

3 • Cultivate Empathy
We can also practice mindfulness by cultivating empathy and acceptance. Pay attention to everyone with whom you come into contact. Be conscious of their experience. See if you can imagine walking a mile in their shoes. That, also, will help you get in touch with your daily experience.

4 • Catch Yourself Not Being Present
We can also enhance our mindfulness experience by catching ourselves not being in the present moment. By arresting our racing thoughts, we can stop ourselves in our own tracks and bring a calming awareness to our breath. The more you practice being aware of your thoughts, the better you get at directing and controlling them.

5 • Talk Yourself Through It
Sometimes, when things seem to be spinning out of control, we are in a state of crisis, and stronger measures are needed to arrest our focus. To force yourself to become immediately aware of the present moment, talk yourself through each of the activities in which you are engaged as you do them. Do this by simply saying to yourself, “I am drying this plate,” “I am preparing this meal,” “I am walking on this trail,” etc. You will force yourself to focus on where you are and what you are doing in the present moment and, as a result, will find yourself once again calm and focused on what you need and choose to do.

This is a common problem in our busy society today. Even when we retire or hit the road on vacation, many of us have difficulty turning our minds and thoughts off. Practicing these techniques and, of course, eliminating the stress you can cut out of your life will enable you to lose yourself in the moment and truly enjoy the travel and vacations you have worked so hard for all of these years. Happy, and mindful, travels!

Diane is a therapist in private practice who works extensively with clients on stress management and relationship issues. She and her family are also avid RVers. Her articles are meant to provide information of a general nature and are not intended as specific psychological advice or to take the place of consulting with a health care professional.

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