While recently on a business trip, I felt stressed by all of the work I had looming on my calendar. My mind was racing, working to organize my day, with the many tasks due. I could feel my neck and shoulder muscles tighten as my mental to-do list grew. My plane made its ascent, and the familiar announcement came on that it was permissible to turn on electronic devices, so I reached for my laptop and powered it up. While it was kicking into gear, I glanced out the airplane window. The scene sprawling before me took me by surprise and delight.
Snow-capped mountains poked through billowy clouds. Bodies of deep green water caught shafts of light from the warm summer sun, creating sparkling emerald pools with iridescent rainbows. I observed colors, textures, and patterns on the landscape that I had never noticed, despite the countless times I had ascended into the blue from this airport. As I stared into the endless expanse of the azure colored sky, I felt my shoulders relax a little.
My laptop blinked at me, signaling its readiness. But the moving picture outside my window invited me to linger longer. Work could wait. I decided to give myself a time out.
It’s amazing what a few minutes of anchoring in to the sights, sounds, touches, and scents around you can do for your energy level and your peace of mind when you are feeling pulled in too many directions. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to just stop doing anything for a few moments, and just be. Be with yourself, right where you are. Turning your attention toward your present surroundings can help you turn away from the thoughts in your head that may be bogging you down, especially if you’re like me, and you’re always thinking about something! It gets exhausting. Because I love my work, I can easily get caught up in it, and not take the time outs I need to stay balanced by just being, instead of always doing something. Our minds, just like our bodies, need rest. Aside from a good average eight hours of daily sleep, several five minutes breaks in the day to focus on your body sensations, rather than your brain activity, actually gives your brain, and congruently, your body, a break. When you’re thinking about how stressed you feel, your body usually follows suit and can even manifest itself through muscle tension, headaches, nausea, and overall weariness.
Hope whispers, just be.
Just as an adult may give a child, who is engaging in some unacceptable or unhelpful behavior, a time out to consider the error of those childlike ways, we too, can give ourselves a time out to just be with ourselves. With no distractions, we can refocus our energy to being instead of doing. It can be rejuvenating. It can also be difficult for some. Not everyone likes to be with themselves. Practice helps.
I have coached clients to develop this discipline of mindfulness by intentionally taking several five minute time outs throughout the day to practice sitting quietly and observing their surroundings using as many of their senses as possible. While it may be uncomfortable for those are always busy doing something, it can be learned (trust me, I know, I am by nature a doer), and it is incredibly beneficial for your health. I have used this with clients in the past when they are sharing something with me that is troubling or distressing to them in a session. If they report they are starting to feel some physical discomfort, sweaty palms, or an increased heart rate, I instruct them take a break from the difficult topic of conversation and spend a few minutes focusing on their surroundings. I will ask them to describe what they see, hear, feel, and smell. Within a few minutes, they report that their feelings of physical distress have subsided, and they feel calmer, physically and emotionally. Anxiety decreases. Hope increases.
I find nature especially calming; there’s something matchless about the incredible beauty of God’s creation to me. Outdoors in any season is one of my favorite places to take a time out from the stressors of life. It is filled with rich colors, alluring aromas, peaceful sounds, and interesting textures. Wherever you find beauty, take a time out when you need one. Your mind and your body will thank you.
Where do you enjoy taking a time out?