Table of Contents
I just took a break. I needed it.
I escaped to the isolation and otherworldly landscapes of Southern Utah for a few days.
Because I needed to relax my mind from the stress I've been feeling.
I've been doing too much at work and in life in general.
Before the break, my anxious mind filled with worry about not publishing one of my three weekly issues--for the first time ever.
But the break was more than worth it in a number of ways.
I solidified a few insights to share with you.
And I learned something big about myself and the need to relax my mind from stress.
Taking Time to Look at the Stars
Have you ever been someplace so dark that stars seem to blaze fiery holes in the sky?
Have you ever seen a sky so black that the moon, in contrast, serves as your nightlight and guides your steps?
That's what it was like this past weekend just outside of Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah.
For someone like me, who deals with anxiety and always wants to make the most of my time, looking at the stars can feel like a waste of time. But it's actually a reality-shifter.
About a year ago, after watching much of the highly acclaimed, free online Coursera course Learning How to Learn, I discovered just how important it is to shift back and forth between focused mode and diffuse mode.
Focused mode is when you're intently zoned in on a task, such as filling out a spreadsheet on a computer or solving a math problem.
Diffused mode, on the other hand, is when you intentionally let your mind wander, such as by staring out the window or walking around in nature and taking it all in.
It turns out you receive outstanding benefits when you put your mind into diffuse mode.
And that's what I did when I looked at the stars this past weekend for multiple nights in a row.
Let's call it structured unstructured time. My escape to the vastness and Martian landscapes of Southern Utah was an intentional decision to spend some time in diffuse mode.
And, in the process, I saw something in those stars.
By contemplating just how big the world is, I felt a warm feeling of interconnection wash over me. I thought about the many wonderful people I've met through writing this newsletter. I thought about our collective ability to look at the night sky and see the same tapestry in an unlimited number of ways. At the same time, I saw the sea of stars as a vast blanket enveloping us all.
Mental health is much the same way. There are an infinite number of ways to find happiness, but there will always be common guiding points, floating beacons awash in the darkness to be claimed by anyone who looks for them.
It's only when you relax your mind that you can begin to see both the big picture and the tiny details that come together to make it so.
How to Relax Your Mind From Stress in 3 Steps
Learning to relax your mind is a skill, but it is a skill that absolutely can be learned.
Let the list below be your guide.
Of course, as I always recommend, you know your life best and will know which of these steps to try first and which steps resonate with you the most.
Trust your body and who you know you are. The rest will fall into place.
1. Structure Your Unstructured Time
I can't say this enough. If you don't take time to save time for yourself, other people will set your agenda for you.
There will always be people who can come up with hundreds of ideas for how you should spend your time. That's why you need to be diligent about creating a plan for how you will spend your time off.
I've found that if I don't plan ahead to have downtime, my anxious mind will look for pointless activities to fill up any available time I might have. A basic structure gets rid of this issue for me.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Zone Out
For many people, zoning out feels irresponsible. It feels like a luxury we simply no longer have in this world.
With thousands of companies, media networks, and messages from all kinds of devices competing for our attention, it's no wonder that much of the population feels anxious and stressed.
It's when you give yourself permission to zone out that you relax your mind. Do whatever you need to do to get to this point.
Sometimes, for instance, I'll do a little end-of-day ritual when leaving work. I'll shake out my arms and legs as I head out the door or say "work is over" to myself to signal the end of the day.
But you should probably come up with your own ritual. It will be more powerful that way.
Take my examples as a guide and run with them.
3. Come Back to Focused Mode in an Intentional Way
What's the point of taking time to relax your mind if you don't use what you learned once you go back into "normal" life?
The stars don't go away just because you aren't looking at them anymore. They're still there to guide your behavior and thoughts.
After you've taken time to let your mind relax, coming back to the reality of living can become an opportunity to embrace, not an automatic reason to stress about.
Buddhists teach that the water underneath rocky waves is always calm. You can return to that state of calmness through contemplation and meditation, but you don't need to be a Buddhist to reap the benefits of mental relaxation.
Anyone can do it.
The real key to relaxing your mind is not simply that you do it--it's choosing a different path once you leave relaxation mode. It's seeing the bustling hubbub of daily living in a new way.
And that's what I've learned about mental health as well. When I looked at the blazing stars this past weekend, I remembered that I actually enjoyed doing it as a child as well. I had simply forgotten what it felt like. I had forgotten that, as a child, I had anxiety and OCD behaviors then too, and I remembered how hard it was for me to let myself relax.
But I did it. And I'm doing it again now.
Relaxing your mind from stress, strangely enough, takes effort. But it's effort that is more than worth it in the long run.
It turns out, to regain my mental clarity, I simply needed to go to the desert to find my way back to shore.