Does this sound familiar? I feel like my brain is always going, and it feels impossible to slow it down.
When I’m at home, I’m thinking about work, and when I’m at work, I’m wishing I was at home. When I go on vacation, I find myself worried about things back home or at work. Even when I’m spending time with my family, I feel like my mind is 1,000 miles away.
It’s difficult for me to relax, and when I try to relax, I’m often thinking of all of the things I “should” be doing instead. It’s like my mind is a computer, with too many tabs open, and as soon as I close one tab, another one pops up. It’s exhausting!
When I think about it, I realize it has been a very long time since I truly enjoyed anything. It’s very hard, sometimes impossible, for me to be truly present in a moment because of all of the background noise in my brain.
The only time I’m not thinking is when I’m so tired that I sort of zone out with some kind of mindless activity…until it starts all over again. Then, I feel guilty for all of the time I wasted.
I never feel truly rested. I often have trouble falling asleep, because I can’t shut my brain off, and even if I do manage to fall asleep, I often don’t feel rested when I wake up.
If you have ever felt this way, you are most definitely not alone. I have heard this story from many individuals who are tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged. Many of these individuals also state that they have “great lives,” and that there is no reason that they should not be happy.
So, what’s the deal?
There can be several reasons for this:
First, we live in a world of constant demands for our time, attention, and energy. Great importance is placed on the ability to multitask and increase productivity. Unfortunately, this can “prime” our brains to constantly keep these “tabs” open, making relaxation and the ability to be fully present in the moment very difficult.
Second, trauma survivors struggle with this in the form of “hyper-vigilance”. Hyper-vigilance is a state of constant, over-awareness of one’s surroundings that has developed as a way to constantly assess possible threats to one’s sense of safety. In order to relax and fully enjoy a moment we have to feel some sense of safety, and for trauma survivors, the world rarely feels safe.
So, how do I fix this?
Think about it:
How can you truly enjoy a moment, if you’re not fully engaged in it? If my body is trying to relax on the beach, but my mind is miles away, stressing about work that has to be done when I get back, am I really achieving the sense of rest and rejuvenation I need?
In one word: Mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to quiet your brain and be present in the moment. One of the simplest ways to practice mindfulness is to engage your 5 senses.
Stop and notice what is around you. What do you see, hear, smell, feel, or taste? If you are on the beach, stop and listen to the sound of the ocean, notice the feel of the sand on your toes. If you are at home, playing with your children, notice the sound of their laughter, be fully engaged in what is happening around you.
This will take some practice, but it is worth it. Make a conscious effort to consistently pull yourself back to the present when you find your mind wandering off to something else.
If you find your brain fixating on one particular worry over and over, take a minute to write it down, or set a reminder on your phone to address it later. This allows your brain to release it for the time-being.
If you are a trauma survivor, practicing mindfulness can be particularly difficult, but it is possible. It is advisable to talk with a professional to work through your trauma, so that you can move past it and start enjoying your life more fully by being able to be present in the moment.
Life is short…. Let’s be intentional at making the most of it!