Small Ideas for Strange Times
Updated: Apr 1
Small idea #3: Manage your mind
I know I'm not alone in thinking my mind is working overtime these days. Like everyone else, I’m attempting to mentally process the unprecedented scope and scale of this pandemic while still trying to hang onto a semblance of normal life. And it's taking a toll.
And it’s not just me. I had a video call with my brother and sister-in-law this morning and among other things we talked about how every effort to accomplish anything of value has been stymied by the sensation of physically and mentally moving through freshly-poured concrete. And, by contrast, how effortless it is to lean back on the couch and scroll through social media feeds for hours on end or watch endless news updates on TV.
What’s going on here?
I suggest our minds are over-stimulated. Some of this is down to living through something we’ve never lived through before. And some of it is self-inflicted. So for your benefit and mine, here are a few tools and practices that can help us make sense of our lived experience while reducing unnecessary strain on our brains.
1) Limit exposure. In truth, there are very few things we really need to know about what’s happening. Not because we’re callous or disinterested, but because there’s so little we can do other than stay home and do our part to stem the flow of contagion. Flooding our minds with constant updates on the stock-market, the rising numbers of those infected, equipment shortages, or the latest emerging red zone will do us no favors. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, exposing ourselves to less information, not more, will free up precious mental energy to focus on things that directly affect us. We know enough to know this is a crisis that will get worse before it gets better. Other than that, the only thing we really need to know right now is to stay home.
2) Slow down the scrolling. How many hours do we lose each day to our digital devices? In addition to wasting time, endlessly scrolling through social media and news feeds is hard on our brains. We’re basically asking them to do two very different tasks simultaneously: make sense of disconnected clips of news, opinions, ads, discussions, jokes, demands, etc. and anesthetize us from our thoughts and feelings. Not surprisingly, this isn’t good mind management. We all know the digital world is highly addictive and it can be very hard to change our relationship with our devices. But it's not impossible. Here are a few ideas to consider:
· While home-bound, don’t carry your phone with you everywhere you go.
· Set two or three specific times during the day to check and respond to emails and texts and set a timer to limit how long you can spend taking care of these tasks*.
· Schedule a specific, limited time in your daily plan for social media. Use this as a reward for completing tasks. And set a timer.
· Consider taking a one-day sabbatical from social media. Yes, an entire day. Consider it a detox for your brain.
* This only pertains to your personal emails and texts. If you’re working from home you may not have the freedom to practice this kind of restriction where work emails and texts are concerned. At the same time, this might be a good opportunity to set some reasonable boundaries around when and how often you respond to work-related tasks.
3) Journal. The value of a journal at a time like this is its ability to bring order to our disordered thoughts. Committing the words to paper allows us to acknowledge the difficulty of the times in which we’re living while empowering us to make choices about what to carry and what to release. And it’s not all angst and fear and anger - keeping a journal also allows us to record acts of kindness, glimpses of beauty, and reasons for hope.
4) Meditate. In recent days I've heard many of my recovery friends and acquaintances say, “I’m so grateful I got sober before this happened.” I agree. I’m also grateful I began a practice of meditation before this happened. My morning sessions are increasingly valuable to me as times of absolute peace – body, mind, and spirit. There are many ways to meditate and many tools readily available to teach and support beginners. My suggestion is to start small, be patient, and try different formats: guided meditation, musical meditation, meditation with movement, contemplative prayer. The options are endless. And before you say, “I can’t meditate”, I said the same thing for decades and I was wrong. I can meditate. And I can attest to its unmatched effectiveness in creating space and calm in an otherwise bonkers brain.
How’s your mind these days? What’s the greatest challenge you’re currently facing when it comes to managing your thoughts? What works for you?