Photo by Dana Wyss
Proliferation of thought, the hyperactivity toward which most minds are prone, has a spreading quality. Have you ever noticed this in your own mind? A fleeting feeling, a momentary thought, suddenly becomes captivating to the mind. It grows and spreads, consuming our attention and influencing our bodies and minds as it replicates, demanding ever more attention. Our breath shortens and our face tightens, a whirling tornado of energy and thought may move throughout our torso, neck, and head. And it is not pleasant state to be in - this is not our happy place!
Perhaps it begins as thinking of what we need to accomplish in a day, and along the way our list-making becomes frenzied with endless entries, a feeling of overwhelm, thoughts of the impossibility of accomplishment, remembering past moments of not finishing all the things we wanted to, a self-judgment of not being good enough. Boom! In a few seconds, we're in a hell of our own making. No longer thinking clearly and with racing hearts and minds, we careen into the day to push others out of our way in our battle with our own mind. And maybe we stay in this state for much of our day.
Perhaps it begins with contact with another. Most of us are familiar with the experience of replaying an interaction in our minds, over and over, long after doing so is in any way helpful to us. Perhaps a conversation didn't go well, and we regurgitate it repeatedly, inserting new phrases, imagining different outcomes. Or perhaps another driver behaves rudely, and we spend the rest of our commute reliving the anger of that moment, making judgments about that particular driver - maybe even humanity at large - playing that all on repeat. This experience differs from contemplation, in that it does not bring us new or useful information. It does not put us in touch with beneficial options or creative solutions. In fact, it cannot do so. When in this state, the regulatory and relational areas of our brain have gone offline, and we're unable to access the wisdom and creativity that help us actually solve problems and learn from our interactions with others.
When you are feeling frenzied, or terrified, when you are feeling as though you're about to "lose it", when your mind and body are telling you that the whole world is about to end or that the decisions you are making are life-and-death when they truly aren't, you have left the place where thinking more can be useful to you in that moment. You need to intervene and give yourself a pause, to help your brain bring all of it's parts back online. What can be tricky here is that the nature of this proliferating thinking insists on the immediacy of a response (either an action, or more thinking). You will feel as though you don't have time to stop and do the thing that will help you regulate your brain, and that feeling will be very convincing. So, know that. And, knowing that, challenge it! Make time - it will appear if you decide to take it - to create a pause and reset. It often doesn't take but a couple minutes. Considering the suffering you experience while in this agitated state, an exit that costs 2-3 minutes could be considered a very wise investment of your time. A steal, even!
This is a guided breathing practice that can help you to slow and calm the mind, heart and breath. It's best to practice this several times when you are calm, so that when you really need help it's accessible. Try working with this practice a few times over the coming week, and set an intention that you will remember to use it to help yourself when you need it.
Other ways to help yourself in those difficult moments include:
Sit in a chair and rest your elbows on your knees. Then, separate your legs wide enough that you can place your elbows on the insides of your thighs and your hands on the inner knee of the opposite leg (right hand on the inside of the left knee, left hand on the right). Press your hands into your knees and your knees into your hands, firmly enough to feel solid contact and gently enough that you can sustain this for 1-2 minutes. Bent over like this, keep gently pressing hands to knees and knees to hands while taking breaths as long and slow as you can comfortably make them. Take 20 breaths or more in this way. Then slowly release the pressure, staying bent over awhile if you need to. Sit up when you're ready. Let yourself move slowly to get up.
Go sit quietly somewhere (preferably under a tree, but in your car or even the restroom is good), and breathe deeply until some part of you remembers. That in large part, you are safe, that you are basically OK as you are, that in this moment you largely have what you need. Even if everything is not perfect, most things are going well and you're a good person who is doing their best. If it helps, you may try speaking to yourself like you would to a good friend or a child if they were as upset as you are right now. Silently give yourself reassurance and encouragement as you breathe, perhaps resting one or both hands over your heart as you do so. When you feel a shift, take 2-3 more deep, slow breaths, thank yourself, and slowly return to your day.
Sit (or walk, or run) until you feel your mind relax and open to possibilities that you cannot see right now. Or until it opens to the okayness of not knowing exactly what the outcome, next step, or right answer is. Trust that the most helpful thing you can do now is to calm your system, and that doing so will take you to the next step.
When you've recovered some balance, continue being kind to yourself throughout your day. Staying away from caffeine, alcohol and excess sugar while drinking extra water would be a kindness to your nervous system on a day that you've struggled. Taking mini-breaks to take 3 slow, conscious breaths would be a kindness to yourself. Taking a long soak in a hot bath at the end of the day, or doing something similarly relaxing like releasing muscular tension or giving yourself a foot rub, would be a kindness to yourself. Every time you respond to your own distress with attention, care and kindness, you strengthen your ability to do this in the future. You begin to decrease the amount of time you spend in miserable states. At some point, you'll be able to put the brakes on this kind of suffering and distress before it really gets going, when it's just a flicker of a possibility. Just think of all the energy - and time - you'll save then!
Wishing you all a healthy, happy, and balanced week to come.
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well.
Dana Wyss Healing Arts