Like just about everyone else, I own a smartphone. My phone, a iPhone 7 is pretty darned smart, and I’ve grown accustomed to it. Every once in a while, though, it acts kind of stupid. It will shut down while I’m trying to look at something or write a note. Or its smart little screen will get stuck while I’m flipping through photos.
When this happens, I’ve got the solution. Like so many other pieces of technology I own, I just shut my phone off for a minute, let it rest, and turn it back on again. It emerges from its nap all refreshed and ready to do more smart things for me.
In some ways, our brains are like smartphones. The visible stuff like producing speech and guiding your fingers to the right phone keys is just part of what’s going on. You know how that feels – you’re typing up a letter at work, and your brain is feeding you anxious about your checking account or nagging you for eating too much at lunch. It never seems to stop.
My friends, my clients and even people that I don’t know that well, told me they’re always running, always working, always tired. I’ve ask them what they’ve done for themselves lately, and the answer is always the same – and usually comes after a slightly embarrassed pause. “Nothing.”
At this point especially with my clients, I do a little experiment. I have them close their eyes, if they’re comfortable with that, and I lead them on a one-minute guided breathing exercise. No point to it, no destination, just one minute of slow breathing. I tell them that if those anxious thoughts try to crowd into their breathing space, just notice them and then let them go. Observe and describe. “Oh, there’s a thought about money. Goodbye, thought about money.” “Hey, I’m judging myself for not being able to do a freaking breathing exercise correctly. Hi, judgment, I’m noticing you. Goodbye, judgment.”
And so on.
After a minute, I bring them back into the room. They’re often very reluctant to come back from that nice, centered, non-judgmental breathing space. I ask them when the last time they took even one minute to do nothing at all but breathe, and practice kindness to themselves. Again, the answer comes – never.
Next time you’re at work in a frenzied day, close your office door if you can, or just find a place to go (bathroom? Hopefully the boss won’t chase you there, although I had one in my past work life who would!) and take one minute for yourself. Breathe. Observe and describe your thoughts, and let them go. If it helps, visualize yourself next to a stream, and let your thoughts be washed by water. Now, you feel love and compassion for them, calm and relief.
If you still have a bit of anxiety, or negative thoughts that persist, release them it into the stream. Repeat.
If you’re lucky, this will become a habit. Everyone has one minute per day to spare. The more you visit your brain, the better you’ll get at quickly finding an uncrowded corner in which to relax.