there there brain
February 12, 2019 8:21 PM   Subscribe

I've started settling into my life professionally and geographically and such, but my hypervigilant brain is still taking its sweet time relaxing. One area of focus, obviously a large one: non-work time alone. What are some good habits or hobbies or whatnot that communicate the opposite of "you must constantly be manuveuring yourself into new futures/lives/possibilities to avoid being blindsided and hurt"?

I've asked versions of this question over time. I feel like only now am I truly open to how threatening and bad some of these feelings are -- and hopefully, that means I'm well on my path to healing. Most notably, I'm not trying to yank myself out of whatever my life situation is currently into the next one, and instead committing to my life on the scale of a couple of years-- and I can tell that's an important thing for me.

But now I'm learning how my brain is constantly scanning and optimizing, and how bad I am at letting myself truly accept I don't need to do this. Over the last couple of weeks, my mental energy has shifted into planning a long creative project -- and I'm excited about it and genuinely think I'll do it. BUT. I would also like to be doing things more frequently that aren't tied up into this idea of productivity and big plans and big life stuff. I need a break from feeling I need to accomplish X to be safe. I'd like to do stuff that takes me out of my well-trod neural pathways.

I've started going back to my local Friends Meeting (yay!) and even started playing a little basketball again. I try to walk out into nature when I can, but it's pretty infrequent now in February without robust snow gear. I see movies with local friends, I'm planning a couple of smaller trips to see distant ones. But still, it's like I'm constantly in the pull of this vortex, even though I certainly recognize lots of progress. I'd like to really rethink how to tackle this on a day-to-day basis. Have you been through this?

With this question I think I'm looking for specific suggestions, but I'm also generally looking for a way to embrace and settle in this time. I'm guessing the trauma processing stuff is going to in some ways continue getting worse until it gets better, but that's okay. I'm open to it. I just feel like I'm ready for a pretty radically different way of being in the world, and am appreciating how that's starting to feel when choosing to commit to my life. But I guess I'm still figuring out what commitment means in that sense.

Anyways, I hope that wasn't too impenetrable! Any help would be lovely, thank you.
posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (14 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Not radical at all, hour of knitting really, truly helps. So does pulling weeds. Busy hands signal to an anxious brain that everything is being taken care of.

Another thing might be a spiritual practice, particularly one where nothing is expected of you, like meditation or a silent worship meeting with the Quakers (that‘s what I do when I‘m in a similar spot).
posted by The Toad at 8:35 PM on February 12, 2019 [9 favorites]

Meditation is good for both observing the way that your thoughts emerge and pass away, and also helps you to recognize unhelpful thoughts when they emerge when you're not meditating.

It's also a pretty good way to convince your monkey mind that you're doing something "useful" when you're actually sitting on the floor listening to your breath whistle out of your nose.

Sometimes when I'm in a mood of neurotic over-productivity (rare!) I try to plan my day ahead of time and limit the number of things I intend to accomplish to an arbitrarily low and achievable number. When I've checked off everything for the day, I make myself do frivolous things that further no plan and try to catch myself if I start to feel guilty.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:45 PM on February 12, 2019 [10 favorites]

I use music to cope with my PTSD symptoms and trauma, so I spend a lot of time listening to music, singing along, making playlists, and writing small journal entries to myself. I've since made the jump to writing for my favorite music review website, and pretty soon I think I'm going to go explore making music, so this is all extremely soothing for me. I also spend a lot of time talking to friends online and doing video chats, so I'm alone but I'm still connecting with others who are at a distance.
posted by yueliang at 12:46 AM on February 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I recognise myself in this, and find one fantastic way of getting out of my own head for a while is to read fiction. TV or podcasts don't seem to occupy me to the extent required, but when I'm enjoying a novel I can feel completely absorbed - and, crucially, relaxed - and escape the constant life evaluation by sinking into someone else's for a while.
posted by churlishmeg at 1:18 AM on February 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

I definitely deal with this same stuff, and one way I channel that energy is into "nesting" type projects, like arranging stuff in my home to work better, or fixing or mending something, or sewing pillowcases-- it both satisfies the DO SOMETHING impulse, and also makes me feel safer and more settled in my home, and helps me feel like I am renewing my commitment to the life I've chosen for myself.
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:43 AM on February 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

also, secret Quaker high-fives to the other MeFi Friends in the thread!
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:50 AM on February 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding meditation. It's all about sitting with your brain and getting comfy with it. There are a bunch of apps (list below) and they all have free trials. Run through the trials more than once.

One note on meditation: The objective it not to stop thinking. Your mind will wander. The objective is just to watch your mind in a nonjudgmental way and when it wanders you bring it back. You focus on the breath, very shortly you notice that you're thinking about dinner, or work, or whatever, and you go back to the breath. Don't judge that wandering of the mind, just observe and go back to the breath. That right there, where you noticed and went back to the breath, that's a key part of meditation.

/r/meditation on Reddit has been a pretty decent resource as well.

Meditation apps: Headspace, 10% Happier, Insight Timer, Calm

Headspace is what got me started and it worked well for me for two years. 10% Happier is good but I haven't liked it as well, possibly because I was used to the pattern in Headspace and 10% Happier feels less structured. I love the timer in Insight Timer (which you can use for free) but have only done one or two of their meditations. I haven't used Calm at all but it's frequently mentioned and people say nice things. These days, year three, I'm mostly doing unguided meditation using Insight Timer.
posted by Awfki at 4:46 AM on February 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don’t worry if meditation turns out to not be for you. I find that it just opens up space for PTSD related thoughts to flow in, so it’s not for me.

I second activities that use your hands. I sew for this purpose, and do crossword puzzles.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:39 AM on February 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

one way I channel that energy is into "nesting" type projects, like arranging stuff in my home to work better, or fixing or mending something, or sewing pillowcases-- it both satisfies the DO SOMETHING impulse, and also makes me feel safer and more settled in my home, and helps me feel like I am renewing my commitment to the life I've chosen for myself.

seconding this. Cleaning/cooking/decluttering/general house sprucing is how I've gotten "zen" for a long time. Especially when I wind things up with a beautifully cooked meal and a glass of wine while listening to Van Morrison's album Astral Weeks.

Speaking of which - also music. The playlists can be fun, but also just have music going and feel free to have solo dance parties in your underwear at home or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on February 13, 2019

Response by poster: These are fantastic suggestions, thank you! I've been meaning to advance my cooking skills (beyond bare minimum) so doing that in a mindful spirit sounds really nice. Knitting is almost a great fit, except I'm sensitive to wool -- though upon searching around, it seems like there's more tolerable types of yarn?

I also like the idea of really focusing on a little porch container garden. I'm not sure how much this will require of me in terms of daily tasks, but it sounds really nice.

Also upon reflection, I've been gradually drifting away from listening to music at home all the time to listening to podcasts and video game streams. I like both of those a lot, but perhaps it will feel different to focus on music more.

Ooh and crosswords is appealing - I like the ritual aspect of trying every day.

Thank you again! And more suggestions welcome too, including less specific strategies and more general mindset things. :)
posted by elephantsvanish at 12:17 PM on February 13, 2019

Response by poster: Also, dancing. (Also also, Astral Weeks is so damn good.)
posted by elephantsvanish at 12:23 PM on February 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just a data point of one person and about 4 hours, but I am the same way and this morning I took on dancing. Today is miserable, wet, I’m behind and stressed and angry. But, I danced when I made coffee. I danced as I made lunch. I danced as I put stuff away and had an amazing stretch as I bent over to do it. Fantastic! My day is completely different!

So, yes, try the dancing.
posted by MountainDaisy at 12:34 PM on February 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I maintain a windowsill full of succulents, and my other houseplants are also very hardy. This is been helpful both for times when I need to go out of town and leave my plants unattended, but also for times when my mental health is less than great and I can just trust that my plants will be OK without much intervention from me. One of the keys for my success with my plant keeping is having lots and lots of plants. Most of them are very small. The more plants you have the less noticeable it is when one of them doesn’t survive.

People are constantly marveling over my green thumb, but it’s really more of a smart thumb than a green one. I do find maintaining my plants to be a significant source of feelings of calmness and safety.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:39 AM on February 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

DANCING! a few songs of really high energy movement and my whole day is on a different trajectory.

In terms of daily, stabilizing things to do - identify an AM & PM morning routine that makes you feel good and is good for you. For example mine is wake up, immediately go to yoga (this checks of physical activity and meditation for me), come home & do my special shower ritual, coffee ritual, smush fancy face products into my face and spend some time getting dressed for the day (rather than just throwing something on and going, taking the time to look/feel good). PM is 1 hour before bed: spend 5 minutes sprucing something around the house, floss/brush, more face smushing and reading (or maybe netflixing). Your routine should work for you, but the gist of having a routine like this is committing to those tiny things that seem to not matter on a daily basis, but someday my older self will thank me for. Also, phone off from 9p- 9a is a good gift to give yourself if you're able to.

Also, when I decided to commit myself to some long term things a few years ago I laid out my plans and also gave my self permission to ADJUST the plans. IE, Three 1/2 years ago when i started my daily yoga practice for several months I was excited and very committed to going 6/week; but as my life made subtle shifts I made subtle shifts to the practice. I didn't give up and quit, I adjusted, and it didn't mean i was any less committed. This was an important thing for me, in the past I would have maybe just quit if I couldn't go 6x/week. It feels really good now to think back to where I started and see where I am now in my practice, not just b/c of the physical progress, but bc of the commitment.
posted by vividvoltage at 8:03 AM on February 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

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