‘Why you need mental downtime and simple steps to get it’

Oct 21, 2021
Andris says switching of the constant 'chatter' in his mind has proven challenging. Source: Stock Photo/Getty Images

Are you able to give your mind a break so that you can enjoy yourself without a single thought or worry in the world? Alas, I have been finding this hard.

I love sayings in Latin. I find them succinct. They conjure up the wisdom of an old, if now dead, language.

I remember the first Latin saying I heard in primary school from my history teacher in Budapest: ‘Historia es Magistra Vitae’. History is life’s teacher.

Then came the famous Cartesian claim: ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’. I think therefore I am.

I must say, I have always had misgivings about thinking being a proof of my being. I mean, I do not always think, thank heavens, but I still exist. And sometimes I think nonsense. Does that prove that ‘I am’?

When I heard the send up of ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’, I felt delighted. It goes: ‘Non-Cogito Ergo Beata Sum’. I do not think therefore I am happy.

I not only find this cheekily funny but also very true.

I have a very curious mind, which if I let dominate me, I would never stop thinking. Yet, while thinking can be very useful, uninvited and excessive thoughts, can create a lot of absent-mindedness and an imbalance in life. They can distract me from getting things done or just simply listening to music without a single thought in the world.

I have also found in my work with insomnia that people who keep thinking before going to bed find it harder to fall asleep as their overactive mind turns them into insomniacs. Also, a lot of people, when they wake up in the middle of the night, cannot go back to sleep because they can not switch off their thinking and often worrying mind.

I remember when, for the first time in my life, I was able to switch off the endless chattering of my mind. How delightful that was.

That is often referred to as ‘mindfulness’, that is, doing what one needs to do rather than being carried away with thinking. Actually it could probably be called more accurately as ‘wilful concentration’ on what one is doing, rather than being scatter minded and therefore not getting things done efficiently. What a relief it is to feel relaxed and be aware, without thinking compulsively.

Until my first experience of being able to switch of my mind, I was either conscious but not very relaxed, or somewhat relaxed but unconscious, as in sleep. As soon as I started to relax, my exhausted mind would make me fall asleep. However, that meant the precious experience of being deeply relaxed naturally, without any alcohol or other drugs, and at the same time being mentally alert, kept eluding me.

I have a life-long history of entrapment in my rational mind. A mind that nearly always ‘chatters’ and insists on controlling my consciousness and which hates to go silent for even a minute.

Read more: How did we lose the plot?!

When I manage to silence the mind chatter, magic can happen. As if then the turbulent thought waves which muddy the waters of my mind’s metaphorical lake, flatten out. The surface becomes smooth and now I can see deep down and get at least some glimpses of truth that my chattering surface mind is so good in preventing me from perceiving. I am then also more available to see others from their points of view rather than being self-absorbed.

That first experience of wonderful peace of mind, in which state I was not thinking and therefore I was happy, strongly motivated me to further explore other ‘thought free’ zones of life, such as being thoroughly absorbed in song, dance and music without a single thought and worries in the world.

5 ways to give your mind a break (according to Starts at 60)

Disconnect from technology: If you think you’re giving your brain a break by mindlessly scrolling through your phone, you’d be wrong. To truly give your brain a break, turn off your notifications and place your technology in another room to completely ‘unplug’ yourself from the distractions they provide.

Practise mindfulness: This could be deep breathing, guided meditation or yoga. By undertaking any of these activities you are developing an awareness of the present, which allows your mind to recover.

Take a walk: If mindfulness isn’t your thing, consider taking a walk. Not only is this a form of exercise, but this physical activity allows you to connect with your body and gives your mind a break. Make room for quiet in your brain while you’re enjoying the walk, so avoid listening to podcasts or having a chat with someone along the way.

Get writing: Journaling can help your brain transition from activated mode to resting mode. If you write by hand, you are forced to slow down your thoughts and focus on processing things without the constant ‘noise’.

Get wet: Showers are a great way of giving your mind a break and many people will often claim they have improved clarity and insight when they’re in the shower. When you’re showering, you are forced to disconnect from everything else around you, including work and technology.

How do you give yourself a mental break? Do you struggle to 'slow your mind'?

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