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Life has been a little rough lately. Not from any one event in particular, but it’s simply one of those times where there’s a lot of little things happening that accumulate into one pile of bleh. Work has gotten more challenging, I feel a bit stretched thin in my relationship, I’m not working out or taking care of myself as much as I’d like, and I have less time and energy to do the little things that I enjoy, like writing. It’s a perpetual pull of many obligations, combined with the feeling that I can’t devote adequate time to satisfy any of them, leaving me drained, exhausted, and overwhelmed.
So, last week I did something that I very rarely do: I played a little hooky. Feeling mentally exhausted, I called in sick. Took a mental health day.
But instead of screwing around playing video games, sleeping off a wicked hangover, or using the extra day to get my productivity flowing, I took time for myself. I went down to my building’s pool and laid outside for hours, just listening to music, soaking up some rays, and enjoying the relative tranquility of having no one else around.
In the movie, For Love of the Game (perhaps the most underrated baseball movie of all-time), pitcher Billy Chapel deals with his struggles and worries during the game by repeating one phrase over and over: “clear the mechanism.” As he does, the hostile Yankee crowd goes silent around him, he’s able to block out all the distractions affecting him, and refocus himself on the next pitch. The next task before him.
When I took my day off, I desperately needed to clear the mechanism.
I didn’t read, listen to a podcast, or occupy my time with some distractions while I was out there. I just sat outside, shirt off (apologies to any of my neighbors who had to witness this), and let my mind wander. And whenever my mind did drift towards anxious thoughts of work, my girlfriend, my life, my obligations, my fears, I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the music repeating the words “clear the mechanism.”
And when I did, the strangest thing would happen. I’d think back to that movie, or Kevin Costner’s other magnificent appearances in Bull Durham, Tin Cup, or Field of Dreams. Maybe I’d wonder for a moment if Costner could have played Han Solo, since he and Harrison Ford look so much alike. But eventually, these tangential thoughts would take my mind off my worries.
Hours passed in a blur, faster than I would have thought. By the time I felt the need to reapply some sunscreen, it was mid-afternoon. Normally, I would have panicked at the notion of wasting half the day, accomplishing nothing. But instead, I felt the peace and the focus I’d been so sorely missing.
I’m not one to be big into meditation or anything like that. However, I cannot deny that there is something nurturing and necessary about taking some time for yourself to just… exist.
Being alone with your thoughts, and consciously focusing on controlling those thoughts is a skill many people do not possess. It’s one that is most often associated with mental health treatment, learning how to deal with the negative thoughts and emotions one has. One of the key tools that people dealing with issues like depression or anxiety learn to use is cutting off negative chains of thought before they can overwhelm you and lead to more negative thoughts. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to do in your day-to-day life because, well, you don’t give a lot of attention to your thoughts when you have a thousand of them bouncing around in your head.
After just a few hours of vitamin D and focusing on just blocking out those bad thoughts, I felt re-energized and refreshed. I won’t pretend that all my fears and problems just went away, but at least I felt better. And by feeling more relaxed, I had that positive mindset to go into work the next day and start knocking those problems down.
So take it from me, a notorious worrier and over-thinker, sometimes it can be good to take time to yourself to be alone with your thoughts. Focus your thoughts towards positive, or even neutral thoughts, particularly during times when you are incredibly stressed. Even though you may feel weird or anxious about not doing anything to fix your problems, I promise you will come out the other side, somehow feeling a bit more relaxed. Because the worst thing you can do with problems is try to tackle them when you’re overwhelmed, digging into the snowdrift furiously as you risk bringing another avalanche of worries down on you. Relax, breathe, and repeat after me: “clear the mechanism.” .
Image via YouTube