The Pause

Take a moment. That’s all. Just a moment.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle and stress and busyness and rushing about and too much to do and general overwhelm of daily life — take a moment.

It may save your life. It can certainly save your sanity.

Every vehicle comes equipped with a little warning light to let us know if we’re getting low on fuel. And when that red light comes on, whatever we’re doing and no matter how busy we are, we head to the nearest garage to fill up. Because we know what happens if we don’t.

Humans don’t come with a handy dial to remind us when our energy reserves are running low. And we ignore the warning signs — low energy, shortness of temper, inability to concentrate, a recurring cold or infection that we can’t quite shake off, broken sleep, forgetfulness, bad hair days. We push on, keep going, muscle through, muttering ‘I need to, I have to, I ought to, I must …’.

Then the longed for holiday or break comes along and BOOM — we’re laid low, unable to enjoy our hard earned recreation (now isn’t that an interesting word — ‘re-creation’), because our body collapses and forces us to STOP. And before we’re properly recovered, we’re back at it again. Busy busy busy.

Fascinating, isn’t it? How we’ve come to wear the badge of ‘busy-ness’ with such pride, as if being ‘busy’ is the hallmark of a rich and fulfilled life. ‘How are you?’ ‘Oh, crazy busy — rushed off my feet!’ we say, as if it’s something to celebrate, rather than to remedy.

Notice how the language of busy-ness makes you feel. I’ve recently stopped referring to my life as ‘spinning plates’ (which always brought a little wave of stress and exhaustion — what if one of the plates dropped, due to my inattention? Eeeek!) and refer instead to my ‘portfolio career’. It means roughly the same thing, and it makes me smile because it feels so different — rich, empowering, stress free. I get to choose which bit of my portfolio I give my attention to, instead of being run by those gaddam wobbling plates!

Switching off and relaxing isn’t easy for many of us. There’s a lurking undercurrent of anxiety and shame and guilt that won’t ever quite go away, no matter how many things we’ve ticked off the to-do list today. Finding just half an hour to do some yoga stretches or to meditate feels like an impossibility — there’s simply TOO MUCH TO DO. And monkey brain won’t shut up either, or give us the peace and space to stand back and look at how we’re living and what our life is really all about.

If this doesn’t apply to you, congratulations. No need to read further. You’ve got it sussed.

If it does, then I repeat … take a moment. That’s all. Just a moment.

And pick one — or if you’re feeling a little crazy and especially generous to yourself, two or more — from the list below. Repeat, frequently and regularly, throughout the day, every day. Set a timer if that helps. And notice the difference it makes.

  1. Close your eyes, yawn, stretch. Then check your posture — head up, shoulders back, chest out. Simply changing the way we hold our body can change the way we feel (and lower our levels of the stress hormone cortisol).
  2. Smile. Smiling releases feel good chemicals in the brain. It doesn’t matter if we’re faking it. Smile anyway. If we catch someone’s eye while we’re smiling, chances are they’ll smile back at us. We’ll both feel better.
  3. Switch your focus. Instead of staring at a screen, look at something in the distance, just for a moment — and if the view out of the window includes something green and growing, even better. It helps to relax our eyes, and our mind, and our soul.
  4. If there’s someone nearby that you’re fond of give them a quick hug. Comfortable and appropriate physical contact releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which helps to lower anxiety levels.
  5. Breathe — consciously. In for a count of four, hold for a count of four, out for a count of four, and count to four before you breathe in again. Even doing this just once can calm and ground us.
  6. Down a glass of water. Lots of us are borderline dehydrated. A quick drink can lift our mood and restore our energy levels within seconds.
  7. Daydream. Not by default, by choice. Even if we don’t have time to go to our favourite place in reality, we can still go there in our imagination. That beautiful sundrenched beach, mountain top with stunning view, forest glade with stream running through, rose garden full of birdsong — wherever it is for you — even just thirty seconds there, in our imagination, can restore, revive, relax and re-create us, from the inside out. Play with connecting to the sights, sounds, smells and sensations there. A little bit of practise and soon we can have instant access to our imaginary get-away. A thirty second holiday — whenever we feel like it, no advance booking required.
  8. Put some music on, stand up and DANCE. Who cares if you look ridiculous. Move that body, shake that booty. Shimmy on down. Sing along, if the spirit moves you. Nothing shifts a mood or raises energy levels faster than a quick boogie.
  9. Make a quick list of five things you’re grateful for — something that’s going well right now, something you’re pleased about, something you’re proud of, something that makes you happy, someone who brings joy into your life (and if you want to send a quick message or card to say thank you to them, it will lift both you and them). When we’re focused on gratitude, it’s hard to be simultaneously grumpy.
  10. Take a quick walk around the block. Breathe some fresh air. Or at least move into another room for a few minutes. Changing our environment changes our perspective. ‘When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.’ It’s true literally, as well as metaphorically.

The intentional pause is good for the soul. These simple simple strategies take seconds and reconnect us with ourself and our own power.

No matter what’s going on around us, we have the power to choose who we’re being. We are, after all, human beings, not human doings. And we are, always and forever, enough. No matter the size of our to-do list or the state of our colour-coded daily planner.