Judi Light Hopson
Tribune News Service
Have you ever felt exhausted, but you couldn’t pinpoint why? Maybe you knew your physical energy wasn’t depleted. The draggy feeling was more like mental exhaustion.
It’s easy to drain your own energy by failing to fully rest and relax. Taking regular breaks is an investment in your own wellness. Calming your mind and closing your eyes can do more for you than pushing harder.
“I once suffered a burned-out feeling for two solid weeks,” says a hospital administrator we’ll call Edmond. “I’d worked four 16-hour days in a row. At home, we had a new baby. I drank so much coffee, I developed panic attacks from caffeine overload.”
He goes on to say, “My sister helped me learn to meditate, which is essentially deep breathing and mindfully tuning out the world. I soon felt like a new person.”
When we’re under stress, most of us rest for three or four minutes. Then, we jump back onto life’s treadmill. We fear taking time to relax, because we worry we’ll lose our momentum. The trick of relaxing is to force yourself to get into the habit of it. Letting go and zoning out has real payoffs.
These tips can help:
— Tune out TV, the computer and music. Strive for total silence to calm your mind. Background noise and voices can aggravate your brain even more. Going into a calm, quiet state means deliberately training yourself to control your environment.
— Turn off your mental efforts completely. Stop writing to-do lists. To really relax, make up your mind you’ll make zero effort to think or plan. Pretend you’re floating in a swimming pool.
— Relax for at least 10 minutes at a time. While this might not always be possible, do your best to watch the clock and rest for the full 10 minutes. Resting like this will actually build up your internal energy.
“I once tried to write a novel when I was at the beach,” says a woman we’ll call Angie. “I’ve written four novels that have sold well in my hometown bookstores. But the novel I tried to write at the beach fell flat. My brain was so tired before I left home, arriving at the beach meant I totally collapsed. No writing was accomplished.”
Before coming to the beach, Angie had taken two college courses. She’d also babysat her brother’s kids for two weeks. Her brain, says Angie, simply “went on strike.”
“We don’t think of our brain as an organ that will shut down, but it will” says Angie, “Learning to take mental breaks, calming our thoughts and allowing no worry inside the brain is good.”
She says she’s learned to rest her mind one day, then write fiction the next. On her rest days, she takes a walk, takes a nap and does a little cooking. A quiet day is like saving up energy to pour into the writing.
A legal assistant we’ll call Reba says she’s stopped listening to too much news. She swears negative news affects her energy to work productively at her law office.
“I keep news to a maximum of 20 minutes per day,” Reba insists. “Otherwise, I literally dream weird stuff. My sleep is horrible.”
Worry, fear and anxiety can follow any of us around. In fact, most people report they use driving time to worry about bills, ponder on their personal problems and plan how to avoid trouble.
“My physical energy has increased since I now listen to music in the car,” says Reba. “A good dose of rock ‘n’ roll or easy listening music is like a healthy drug. It blocks negative feelings.”
(Judi Light Hopson is author of the stress management book, “Cooling Stress Tips.” She is also executive director of USA Wellness Cafe at www.usawellnesscafe.org.)
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