“We should all find a peaceful space, to bury the chaos and rest a while.” – Christy Ann Martine
Last week I walked into the living room, completely forgot what I went in there for, and sat down on the sofa to try to remember. Some time later I suddenly realised I was still there, and had been sitting doing absolutely nothing for nearly fifteen minutes. I leapt up – I had a load of work to do, plans to make for my daughter’s 11th birthday (tricky in lockdown), dinner to cook, and I’d promised to play swing-ball with my son. Perhaps it was because of all this that I had unconsciously taken a short pause!
I remember reading somewhere that our brain processes the equivalent of about 174 newspapers a day. I have no idea whether that is actually true, or where I read it (so I clearly didn’t process that very well), but it’s safe to say that from the instant we wake to the moment we fall asleep at night, our brain is phenomenally busy.
Take the last couple of minutes… without seeming to think about it, my brain has moved each of my fingers quickly and precisely over the small black pads on my keyboard to the appropriate letters (recognised from shapes learnt years ago), in an order to make words (from patterns learnt years ago) and has retrieved and assembled those patterns in the way it feels best to convey the meaning and thought behind them.
It chose the words by quickly, processing my constant inner chatter about what to write, leaving some in and deleting others, while also registering a noise on the window that tells me it’s raining, resolving an itch on my nose by scratching, processing a sudden and unexpected “I need a biscuit” feeling, and neatly combatting it with just the right mix of guilt and will-power to prevent my legs from moving towards the kitchen.
All that, while also regulating my body temperature, growing my hair, breathing in the air I need, breathing out the air I don’t … you know the story… and at this moment your brain is also doing hundreds of things; moving your eyes, processing the images, recognising the shapes and patterns, making sense of them, understanding meaning (hopefully), and forming thought and opinion. All that while blinking, breathing, shedding cells, making new ones and digesting the last thing you drank.
It’s enough to make me want to shout “STOP!” and stagger over to a chair to sit down and recover – which is probably exactly what happened to me in the living room last week.
We should all give our brains a break, particularly at the moment when we are dealing with everything that we are dealing with, each of us in our own way – bombarded with new information, new decisions, new fears or worries and new ways of living. So many things are changed or mixed up, there is a lot to process.
So when was the last time you slowed down and paused? Really, truly, pressed the pause button and took proper time out for yourself? Not a relax-in-front-of-the-TV (still stimulating thousands of responses in your brain) pause, not a taking-a-walk or reading-a-book pause (both still requiring large amounts of processing) but a real, no distractions, peaceful pause?
Recently, on a programme about the main show gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show, they showed a beautiful garden specifically designed around a peaceful place to rest away from the hectic pace of life. It looked so tranquil, with gently swaying grasses, smooth pebbles around a pool of clear water, and a winding cobbled path to draw you slowly towards a sheltered place of peace to sit among the flowers.
It would certainly be nice to have a place like that, but you really don’t have to go anywhere or do anything elaborate – a comfortable chair in a quiet room will do. You don’t need particular clothes or equipment, you don’t have to get changed, sweaty or have a shower afterwards. Just bring yourself and close the door on everything else for a short time (making sure of course that the oven isn’t on and small children are cared for or occupied!) and press the pause button. You can always close your eyes and imagine a tranquil garden if it helps.
My other piece of advice is to give yourself a decent chunk of time – at least 20 minutes or half an hour if possible, because if you’re anything like me you’ll spend the first five minutes fidgeting or fretting that you’ve forgotten to do something. It takes a moment to settle, but you will. Our bodies are perfectly capable of functioning by themselves as they generally do, and whatever you are sitting or lying on will support them. And yes, you do have the time… you need to have the time. The world around you will tick along fine for that short period (as long as the oven isn’t on and small children are cared for or occupied).
So, where will your peaceful place be? And I wonder what thoughts will drift by or what you will notice?
And there’s something else too…
Let’s not call it “ME time” with all the connotations of selfishness and guilt that brings, because pressing the pause button is not selfish, and we shouldn’t feel guilty. It might be for “me”, but it is not “all about me”, it’s one of the best things we can do for the people around us, so that we can be all we need to be for them, as well as all we need to be for ourselves.
But do be clear about it. If you ever read that book to your children called “Five Minutes Peace” you’ll know what I mean. In the story, Mrs Large the elephant Mum just wants a moment to herself. She makes a cup of tea, runs herself a bath and disappears off for “Five Minutes Peace”. She relaxes back, eyes closed, a flowery yellow bath cap over her big ears, the cup of tea balanced on the side and bubbles everywhere. But then children all traipse in wanting to play their recorder, read to her, or share their toys. Eventually, amid the chaos, she gets out, dresses and goes downstairs, where she gets 3 minutes and 45 minutes peace before they all join her once more!
The moral of that story is to get lock fitted to the bathroom door perhaps, but it’s hard to give yourself time when others around you want or need things from you. I would argue however, that a peaceful pause is equally as healthy for you as exercise, and no-one would think of interrupting your Zumba class to ask where the sellotape is, or pop into pilates to ask for a snack would they? So be clear that this is YOUR time.
I am aware that there is some irony about writing about the importance of pausing after having quite a hectic couple of weeks and that my husband, if he reads this, will roll his eyes so I promise I will make time to pause soon … right after I’ve had that biscuit!
So look after yourself, give your brain a break and press the pause button soon too.
Oh, and I still have no idea what I went into the living room for last week and I’m not sure what I was thinking about, but it did slow me down and I felt less frantic and I think the work and the planning, the dinner and the swing-ball were all the better for it!
If you need that extra level of support to allow you to take that time to take back control, to press the pause button, get in contact with one of our Ollie Coaches or work through our Emotional Resilience Course.
Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee
I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far.
To get in contact with Deborah, email email@example.com
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com