stress

A Five Senses Check-In

Back in October I wrote this post—inspired by The Next Right Thing podcast—that was all about connecting to your senses in order to find some peace amongst the fear of the future and chaos of the present.  

Right now, I have a lot of moving pieces in my life, a lot of things that I don’t feel like I have control over and that are changing. As a result, I have been pouring myself into projects, exercise, and goal setting in order to combat the corresponding anxiety. Yesterday, after getting home from work a little earlier than usual, and with the sun out and the weather an incredible 75 degrees outside, I found myself debating over how I could be productive. Should I go for a run, a walk, a hike, do yoga, do work, write, clean, read, pray? What could I do to make myself feel good, or better, or at the very least, calm.

After a while, I decided to do a little yoga, even though I spent the first few minutes frustrated and unwilling to participate. I pretended to relax until I actually relaxed. Then, I sat down on my bed and tried to map out my plan for the rest of my evening—instantly going back to that place of demanded productivity.  My mind was racing and I felt like I was wasting time. But then, I felt the breeze come through my bedroom window. And then I noticed that the sun had turned golden with the evening and there were birds chirping outside. And then I thought back to that post, and I thought it was a fitting time to shift my focus back to the present—“to what is rather than what we are afraid could be.”

Here’s what I wrote down:

Five things I can see

  1. The golden hour sunlight shining through the window
  2. The flickering shadows casted on my bed, my floor and my wall from my blinds
  3. A branch of the palm tree in my backyard swaying in the breeze
  4. The collage on my wall that I made to inspire me whenever I look at it
  5. My newly painted pink toenails

Four things I can hear

  1. The bells of the church down the road that mark the start of every hour
  2. Birds chirping—a reminder that spring is so close!
  3. Neighbors chatting and laughing
  4. A UPS truck driving in the distance

–Three things I can feel

  1. The evening breeze that is cool but no longer cold
  2. The soft comforter that sits on top of my bed
  3. Hunger. The excited kind of hunger you feel when you know what you’re making for dinner and you can’t wait to have it. Looking at you Naan pizza.  

–Two things I can smell

  1. The laundry detergent I used to clean the cozy sweatshirt I’m wearing
  2. Fresh air from my open window

–One thing you can taste

  1. Cold water

There are a lot of things that we can’t control, but there are also a lot of moments that we can choose not to let control us. As it turned out, there were plenty of good things to find on what tried to become a very stressful afternoon. And while I can’t guarantee that anxiety won’t sneak its way back into my shoulders, as I sat there, allowing myself to feel the breeze, to listen to the family next door joke and laugh, and to watch the sun turn gold, I knew everything was going to be okay, and that I could take a deep breath and relax.

Start with Sweeping the Floor

Lately I’ve been feeling a little disoriented. There are so many things on my mind that I’d like to get accomplished and so many steps forward that I’m feeling motivated to take, that my brain has become somewhat of a chaotic mess, wondering where to even start.

Amongst this chaos, even going so far as to walk hand in hand with it most of the time, is exhaustion and frustration. I’ll get home from work with a laundry list of to-dos and my mind spirals, convinced it can’t do any of it, so I’ll end up stressing the hours away until I fall into bed, incredibly disappointed that I didn’t get anything done.

“I didn’t even sweep the floor,” I’ll think.

For among all the big goals I have, there are also little chores around the house that I want to get done. I want to clean my bathroom and do my laundry. I want to organize my desk and change the batteries in my clock. I want to sweep the floor. Having these chores done puts my mind at ease and makes room for other problems to be solved. 

Yesterday, while feeling a particularly cloudy shade of bleh, I got home from work wanting to go for a run, but didn’t feel like I had it in me.

Then you should probably sit down and write, I thought.

Or finish that project siting on your desk.

Or run through the to-do list you have written in your notebook.

Or research future blog posts

Or!

Or!

Or!

 Instead, I took a nap. My head was pounding and with a busy few weeks ahead, it felt like the healthiest thing to do.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel like writing, or working on unfinished projects, or going through to-do lists. But after eating dinner I did have a burst of inspiration to sweep the floor. Which then led to me cleaning my bathroom, doing some laundry and organizing my desk.

I ended up having a very productive evening. And even though I might not have gotten to all (or most) of the things on my to-do list, I got to some, which sometimes is all you can ask for from yourself.

When given the chance, our minds will choose a path to weed through the chaos, and when they do, the best thing to do is follow it. Trying to swim against the current and force yourself to work on projects that your brain isn’t ready for will often result in more days filled with stilted productivity. So go with the flow, and take things one at a time. Get done what you can get done and don’t beat yourself up with timelines and expectations.

At the end of the day, the hardest thing to do is move forward, and sometimes taking the smallest steps to prove yourself wrong will make all the difference. Those steps will get you moving, giving you the momentum you need to take the big ones. Plus, at the end of a long day, when your mind starts to swirl its way into an insomniac stress ball, you can quiet it.

At least I swept the floor.