Take a Mini-Vacation from Anxiety

With all the changes due to COVID from masks, vaccines, social distancing, and political debates, the anxiety level is up. It may feel at times as if we all are under stress.  Our minds are pulled in multiple directions. Many of us bounce around among worries about caring for sick loved ones, keeping our jobs, being able to pay the bills. supporting our children with remote school activities, etc. Then we get trapped in a vicious circle as we worry about maintaining our health so we can get everything done and still help our loved ones. This pandemic is the perfect storm for mental fatigue.

Some characteristics of mental exhaustion include losing the ability to concentrate, finding it difficult to make decisions, being impatient and tending to make risky choices, being irritable and not as likely to help others and being challenged by attempts to plan or implement previously made plans.  Dr. Stephen Kaplan has researched how nature can be a tool for restoring our energy. In The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Experience: Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989) he identified four parts to restorative experiences that lead to recovery from mental fatigue. They are: 1) getting away or having the sensation of being away; 2) experiencing a ‘different world’; 3) being fascinated to the point of having one’s attention drawn without effort; and 4) finding the environmental patterns compatible so there is no fear.

What is exciting is that these four factors are not hard to find, even in the midst of COVID19. Even when we feel a constant pressure to our daily lives, we do not need to respond to the anxiety generated. We can take a few moments to restore our hearts and minds. We can get away by going to a park or simply sitting outside on a deck or a sidewalk. From there we can experience a world that is different from our house or apartment. If going outside is a challenge, we can pull up a chair, open the window and put our head or hand outside. With simple actions we can travel to a ‘different world’ than the usual one with which we may obsess.

The next step is to let go of mental dialogue about our worries. We can do this by consciously shifting our attention. It begins by putting effort into noticing the different world we are visiting. We might watch clouds change shape and look for an image or experience the colors in the sky. We can listen to sounds created by leaves fluttering on trees or insects buzzing around plants, or the singing of birds. We might inhale the fragrances from nearby flowers or simply notice the flavor of a piece of fruit as we chew it slowly.  We might touch the chair and feel the fabric we are sitting upon. By placing our attention with our senses, we can experience connections with the environment around us.

The way the brain is wired, we cannot experience fully our sensations and simultaneously focus on our worries. In other words it is possible to use the natural environment around us to take a mini-vacation from anxiety. If we want to take it to another level, we can make use such practices each day to be at peace, if only for a moment.

So take a break and relax into a moment. When taking a daily walk, even wearing a mask, appreciate the sensation of air felt upon your face or hands. Tell your worries that you are taking a break. You might tell your anxiety, “It’s OK, I know you will be back.” Then focus on the experience of walking, listening to birds or any other activity that engages your senses. If outside, you might take a few seconds to sit next to or lean on a tree. Listen to the tree. Whether you go outside or sit with your head out of your bedroom window, you might find the sunshine or the rain melting your mental fatigue away.

Source