Having the sensation of racing thoughts while you are trying to sleep is a matter that can plague us all from time to time. More often than not it is linked to the memories of a poor experience of the day or the stress of upcoming events such as a big conference the next day. The thoughts we have are often difficult to sort out when we are tired and continue to tug at our consciousness in random, sporadic, and annoying ways. Our fatigue also has us think we do not have the choice to help ourselves, as if the situation is out of our control.
When we eventually wake up the next day, perhaps our body feels refreshed but our mind the opposite. The anxiety has led us to fall asleep in the point of exhaustion, and wake up feeling mentally dull. This affects our functionality during the day and we are less aware of the mistakes we may be making. Our emotional state is affected as well and the tendency to be negative and moody take precedence over a hopeful outlook and positive insight into situations. When I mentioned before that we don’t feel as though we have a choice to help the situation, that is not the case. The common occurrence of being mentally exhausted can be helped by choosing a little bit of either a “brain brake” or giving yourself a “brain break.”
I heard a short riddle that I like to share with people at times. “How long will it take for you to go over the Grand Canyon and be smashed into smithereens, if you are 1 mile away from it and driving at 60 mph towards it?” Most people, who have their math right tend to respond with an answer, “1 minute.” However, why would you choose to be smashed into smithereens? While the math is correct, this is only true if the person does not choose to apply the brakes or turn the wheel. This analogy, though humorous, can be a healthy reminder that speeding through life to get from point A to point B can in fact lead us off a cliff if we aren’t careful.
Applying “brain brake” is like applying the brakes in our life, another way of saying to stop and smell the roses. I recall a recent college grad telling me that his professors at school would always urge them to take 30 minutes off after studying for at least an hour. They would also remind them about the unnecessary risks of pulling an “all-nighter” to get studying done. I never felt it was necessary as well, because when it got to a certain point in the night I felt like I was not processing any information. It was time to apply the brakes a little on my mental drive. My subconscious might have been urging me for a rest. If I had stayed up longer, drank another coffee, and burned the candle at both ends then I would have been toast, smashed into smithereens.
Likewise, in the beginning example, the negative circumstances occur when I have rushed through the day in a stressful manner then find myself wide awake when I try to sleep. I can’t seem to relax and my mind is racing. I have pushed myself to the breaking point and find it difficult to switch gears. Most days, especially ones like this, a good book can be a great help. I can apply a bit of “brain brake” to cool off. It is like a horse after running a race, the jockey trots the horse around a bit before they wash him off. Likewise, I am letting my mind decompress while it is engaged in the story, and soon enough my mind feels less wired. In the canyon analogy, the book can be seen as a steering wheel. The story line helps me turn my mind away from going over the edge into a restless night’s sleep. Whether I chose to apply the “brain brake” or give myself a “brain break”, it helps prevent myself from breaking from prolonged mental fatigue.