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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Recess For Your Brain

So...you're stressed and overworked.  This is a common feeling for most people, and we all have our go-to resources to de-stress.  Let's take a step back to examine how we may constantly perpetuate an endless cycle of stress without even knowing it.  By tweaking our daily routines we can see how bombarded we really are by our surroundings.  Once we've considered the reasons for which it's so difficult to find calm in the world, I'll provide a few relaxation methods that you can put into practice starting right now.  Let me take your brain to recess...

We are currently over-stimulated by an unrelenting stream of distraction to the point where we have been conditioned to crave it.  We are addicted to self-induced stress, like constantly checking our phones, emails, and social media.  Often times, this method allows us to disappear for a moment and take ourselves away from an uncomfortable silence or re-center ourselves during a tedious task.  This perpetual obsession with smart phones is likely contributing to a low-grade anxiety that many of us experience without even realizing it.  
Imagine this scenario:  You decide to leave your phone in the car on your way into your favorite bar for a quick bite to eat.  Anticipating some solo time, crossing the street seems strangely liberating because you are completely alert and aware of your surroundings now that your nose is no longer pasted to a small screen.  Unfortunately, within a matter of minutes, you are already searching your pockets for the phone that you had just moments before decided to leave in the car.   You sit down at the bar and remember the Sweat and Butter workshop you attended about eating for energy, so you order a side salad with olive oil and vinegar to accompany your steak and sautéed veggies for dinner.  Finally, you start to settle in for a mindful meal.  Things are starting off pretty pretty well, this evening!  Then you realize that the room in which you had been seeking peace of mind is filled with jams from the nineties, an incessant flashing jukebox, five TVs broadcasting a silent report on the latest sports scores, and the low hum of multiple conversations.  This is life as we know it.

Is it possible to find truly relaxing space anymore?  Think about it...you grab a banana as you rush out the door in the morning.  You shovel your lunch into your mouth in between checking emails and finishing paperwork.  Then, you plop down on the couch after a long day and mindlessly eat your takeout in front of a glass screen that recreates a world in front of you in which you are not forced to interact.  Because life keeps you constantly on the go, you are forced to find solace in "relaxing" activities, many of which aren't relaxing in the slightest. Crappy TV isn't rejuvenating; it just adds to the stress.    

Have you ever seen such plush terrycloth in your life?!
There needs to be a disconnect, but sometimes this can seem like a chore.  "I want peace and if this isn't working then nothing will!" The reality is that creating and maintaing healthy, stress management strategies takes time, practice and patience.  
  
For those of you who have tried to implement relaxation tactics, you may find yourself confused by guidance you have received in the past.  If a yoga guru tells you: “Chill out! Just meditate, man!”, it's natural to have an insatiable urge to throat-punch them with your hand bone.  This is likely due to the insecurity that you feel when it seems like you are the only one missing out on the zen.

Magazines depict an unachievable ideal for us.  Simply climb an incredibly high mountain far from any civilization, and then hold a striking yoga pose effortlessly in order to be one with the universe.  Another example would be this cat picture. (above)  This picture says: "Allow your mind to evaporate any thoughts and calmly relax into serenity with the aromatherapy of freshly cut cucumbers."  Ahhhh...smells like fresh bullsh$t to me!

These cliches are everywhere.  It's as though we are expected to have some innate state of enlightenment that we simply need to tap into.  "Yes, of course..how simple!"  If you have ever unsuccessfully attempted meditation, you may know the feeling of trying to connect to that quiet space only to find yourself running through a grocery list in your head before suddenly switching channels to consider the types of nuts that North American squirrels prefer.  This cycle can be maddening and discouraging.

Didju move my bongos, bro?
I realized the importance of space and calm recently when I was on the bus.  Every day I get onto the bus early enough to grab a seat as the rest of the stops start to pack in like sardines.  Most of the time I'm sleepy enough to enjoy the rumble of the engine and the warmth of the cabin, protected from the winter cold.  I never feel the need for a book,  because my brain isn't ready just yet.  Nor am I compelled to put on headphones since the bus is quiet with everyone mentally preparing for their day.  On this particular morning, I found myself unusually jarred by something new on the bus.  One of the stops now has an automatic ad over the speakers that announces the unbeatable prices that Megabus offers.  The voice narration of the ad jarred me.  I became irritated because it was ripping me out of my quiet moment. I quickly realized that this was my only quiet space, that time on the bus was sacred!  The ad made me realize that I needed to schedule more down time for my brain on a daily basis, because each and every moment seems to be saturated with information to process. 

I have since started incorporating three simple things into my daily routine: 

1. 5-5-5 breathing.  Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold it for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, then repeat this four more times.  Better yet, make your goal to do this 5 times a day.  Focus on every breath.  This is easy to do, and once you find your groove you can use this as a reset switch to sooth your information-overloaded brain. 

2. Go for a walk.  You know all of those strange thoughts that streamline into our consciousness somewhat randomly throughout the day?  No matter how insignificant they may seem they must be coming from somewhere.  Get up and move around once in a while. Aside from the physical benefits of breaking up a long day in front of a computer screen with regular bouts of movement, the change of scenery will benefit your psychological health.

3. Practice mindfulness.  Try to be present at every moment, even if you're alone.  Put the phone away and enjoy your meal at the table.  Eat and converse with your family instead of gluing yourself to yet another screen: the TV.  Enjoy your food.  Look at the colors.  Think of how it nourishes you.  Allow your mind to wander in order to release any clogged areas of the mind.  This quiet space will allow your thoughts to run free.  It’s like recess for the brain

It can be an overwhelming task to find peace in your busy world.  Finding that calm, quiet space of mind takes patience and practice. These three steps will help you crowd out old habits and make you more aware of where your serenity actually lies. 


Stephanie Telep is a co-owner and health coach at Sweat and Butter.  She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Duquesne University.  She hopes to help others make necessary changes in their lives while fostering a positive and healthy attitude.  She can be reached at stephanie@sweatandbutter.com. 



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1 comment :

  1. Stephanie, I really enjoyed and can completely relate to this article! Thanks so much for saying what so many of us know but don't ever really talk about...we are so inundated every moment of the day, we have forgotten how to truly live!

    ~ Kendra

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