Ed’s note: This story was first published on 24 May 2021. But we know it’s a tough time, so we thought you might need something to help you find some calm in the storm that is our political world right now.
Read Part One of ‘Rest for the Restless Mind‘, here.
Breathing, meditation and visualisations
I cannot write about rest for the restless mind without speaking about the power of simple breathing, meditation and visualisations. For years, I felt that these were skills I needed to acquire by going on special courses, but, in fact, I’ve learnt that these everyday practices are readily available to us.
Here are some simple examples:
- Walk while being aware of your breathing;
- Slow down your breathing as you breathe through what you feel;
- Breathe in new energy and breathe out your stress;
- Inhale and exhale five times slowly;
- Lie down or sit still (with your eyes open or not), and breathe and be still for as long as you can. Watch your tendency to want to do things. Do nothing but be still and breathe slowly for as long as you need;
- Visualise nature being inhaled into the areas of tension in your body. Exhale your pain and worries. Breathe waves into your worrying gut and wash away your stress. Inhale a tree into your lungs, breathing inside of you, as you exhale your worries;
- Do a simple meditation or breathing exercise where you breathe in and out while visualising moving towards the centre of your body. If you want, you can use your hands to wave good energy into your body and wave away bad energy exiting your body.
Develop your own ways to push against restlessness. We have almost forgotten that the simple act of breathing slowly and deeply is one of the most wonderful tools to soften the blows. Blow through that heavy pit in your stomach and expand your lungs.
Find a happy relationship between connecting with your thoughts, feelings and body cues, and slowing down the pace with some healthy distractions.
Healthy distractions are not about avoidance of your problems, but about finding breathing spaces on your journey of self-discovery. Healthy distractions can be anything from watering your plants, to talking to a friend, to making a meal, to simple everyday actions like walking, gardening, swimming, washing, writing, singing… All of these things can be healthy breaks from a busy mind.
Avoid the places that you know well enough and have visited often enough; avoid habits, like substances and screen-watching, that are making your mind restless and stealing your light, keeping you out of balance, robbing your energy and distracting you from yourself.
Your intention is not to resist the restlessness, but to gently meet with your worries in a safer way. Therefore look at yourself with constant breaks for air in order to gain some new perspectives. Like the artist stepping away from the canvas to ponder on the work, healthy distractions are a welcome relief for a busy mind. A short break can be a source of remarkable perspective and insight.
Take your busy mind for a walk in nature or in a book, and see how these activities create instant relief for your restless mind.
Step outside of your comfort zones
Say no to what comforts you but doesn’t tell you the truth. What is true is most likely outside of your comfort zones. Put down what is not good for you and do more of what you know is good for you. Preserve your energy by carefully choosing the people and experiences you would like to have on this journey and need right now. Move towards nature and movement in order to find nurture.
Give yourself permission to be
It seems hard to give ourselves full permission to be where we are truly at, be it lost, or anxious or struggling to be still. Give yourself permission to be where you are at and receive what you need.
In addition to the anxiety effects of our traumas and losses, we are increasingly restless because we wrestle with the experience of not being in control of our restless thoughts. Be it restless, lost, sad or all over the place, we struggle to accept the impact of a painful or stressful event on our minds and bodies. Often, I have to remind my clients about the real and human effects of an event and that what they’ve experienced is tough enough as it is.
Do what you need
Restore your sense of inner stability through sticking to your own promises to yourself. If you need rest or need to take action, do it without negotiation and bargaining — and start to feel better. Don’t overcommit to too many things at the same time. Maybe consider one thing per day. To focus on that thing requires some of your time. Give in to it. No debate.
Listen to what you need and move in the direction of your needs. Do not judge what you need; simply get to know it and see if it needs any attention. It is in the avoidance of what you know you need to do that your mind spins out of control.
Restore trust in yourself through listening to yourself and sticking to your own promises. Listening to yourself is about acting upon the cues from your mind and body and giving them what they need. If you need to stay away, put what you’re doing down and slow down. Or, if you need to step up, listen and do it.
Create a counter process
Develop a counter, inner voice that is a kind, understanding, compassionate and honest companion on your inner journeys. This voice might debate or even silence the voices that are critical, destructive or repetitive, as they will only make you question and keep you lost.
Discipline your critical mind instead of yourself. Tell your mind what you need, be it to slow down, stop judging, take one thing at a time, be silent or kind. Be reminded that you set your own pace and have authority over those voices that describe you.
Stop your critical, hard inner voices and practise a new voice that takes good, honest care of you. How you speak to what you do and who you are will change the way you feel about yourself. This might require challenging your thoughts by gently redirecting them to a space of kindness and understanding of yourself, rather than punishment.
Develop an inner voice that is supportive, encouraging, honest and kind. Nobody can do this for you except yourself.
Manage your expectations of the process
The expectation that it will be a smooth ride might be unrealistic. In actual fact, any expectations could mess you up.
Stop trying to control what is not in your control and, instead, be as lost as you need to be. This might require a huge adjustment in your expectations and going against one’s usual patterns of control, problem-solving and fixing. Accept that everything that happens to you is not always in your control, especially if you’re doing your best with what you have. Stop putting expectations on life. This huge gap in expectations is what often messes with our minds and distracts us from continuing on our intuitive journeys.
The direction you are moving towards is where you feel like you are “at home” in yourself again. This kind of “landing” in yourself is often described as relaxing or breathing again — an inner glow that shines through your eyes at times. You feel more centred, silent and like yourself. You experience lost and found moments of brief peace, silence and insight. Whatever your journey, let go of your expectations and be where you need to be.
As you are making sense of your realities and show a dedication to them, your perspective on life might shift from tunnel vision towards an outward-bound, bigger-picture perspective. This can lead to feelings of gratitude and lightness of being as well as a renewed sense of energy and interest in life.
Stop the questioning
We like to overthink our worries through questioning, intellectualising and rationalising, rather than looking for our truths. Questioning yourself, your past choices and life in general might just be another way of avoiding yourself.
Asking what and why when you are dealing with loss and trauma can keep you in a familiar cycle that makes you feel even more lost. This is not the time to ask questions, especially about the meaning of life and who you are.
Rather, focus your energy on getting to know yourself well, while practising how to truly relax, just be and enjoy life. Spend time in good places with people who give off good, honest energy. This is much more rewarding than routinely asking yourself very circular questions about the many meanings of life.
Practise being still
Slow down on the endless rushing from one thing to the next, steadily robbing you of motivation and purpose. Rushing is just another way to stay disconnected from yourself.
You might find that you have lost connection with yourself and the people around you, despite your productivity and efficiency. A life dominated by administration and domestication can give you the sense of being in a good team, but it often feels empty. It is in the rushing that we lose ourselves and act in unconscious ways. Life starts to feel grey quickly.
Resist the rush through trying your best to slow down whatever you do. Take charge of your experiences of time: even five minutes of stopping and being still can be grounding; from this meeting place you might find the pleasure in the small things again — like the sounds of birdsong or taking your time to make and eat a meal.
Take it even further and practise being still by sitting anywhere and doing nothing. Tell yourself not to jump up or grab your phone. See if you can learn to simply be still. Take in what is around you as you slow down your breathing. This is, of course, not as easy as you might think, because we are programmed to constantly do, act and distract.
Take time to see what you normally would not see when rushing. Feel what you feel without the obsession to act. This is how you find the beauty in small things on any given day.
Share it with a friend or two
Not being able to share our well-being with loved ones can make us feel displaced. Being seen by others is a restful experience for the restless mind. Share what you think and feel with someone you trust and with whom you feel safe.
Find proof of coping and victories
To be safe in yourself is to believe in your capacity to cope with whatever life brings. You know that life can be difficult and loss inevitable, but do you believe you will be able to cope with it? This sense of safety requires trust in yourself, based on your history and experience. You need proof of having coped in order to be safe in yourself.
Your path might initially feel like a rollercoaster ride. What can be grounding is a simple reminder of your small victories — those little moments in which you wanted to run away, but dealt with whatever you were facing. Those moments where you had no choice but to be courageous. Maybe you’ve forgotten who you are despite fear or loss and need a reminder. Connect with those parts of yourself that can persevere and take charge.
The irony is, despite all our fears about not coping and despite often overthinking it, when trauma or loss actually hits you, you find yourself just getting through another day, even if it feels like you don’t have it in you. I am constantly being reminded in therapy that we do cope even if we spend big parts of our lives fearing not coping.
Taking it moment by moment, gently encouraging yourself to keep going while hearing yourself breathing deeply is how you move forward despite adversity. This is what coping means: kindness, patience and responsibility to yourself.
This story was born in response to losses and traumas as a kind of guide to how to handle loss. But there is no waterproof guide for loss or trauma, as we all process these experiences in so many unique and often beautiful ways. You have to find your own path.
Loss and trauma are the inevitable beginnings of change. Even though the loss or trauma is not by your own choosing (mostly, it is not), it is what you make of your experience that can bring new growth and a renewed sense of self.
In our meetings with adversity and disaster, we get an invitation to go deeper and live consciously. We get this invitation for honest change often, and have the choice to go on a remarkable journey that can expand our appreciation for life.
Every step you take on your path of awareness, along which you continuously show dedication to your realities, you feel more present in yourself. On the other side of the work of introspection are moments of quiet knowing, relief and grounding. You might find more than a safe landing in yourself when you take what has rightly been called “the road less travelled”. DM/ML
Stefan Blom is a clinical psychologist who specialises in relationships. He lives and works in Cape Town and is the author of The Truth About Relationships (translated into Afrikaans and Romanian), published by Human & Rousseau. For more information, go to his website.