Have you had the experience of sitting down to watch a movie you’ve downloaded, only to find it stalls, maybe displays an image like the one above, or, potentially, keeps jumping back to an earlier part of the movie? And it stays like this for ages? You might know that’s called buffering, and it’s when your broadband connection is not capable of taking in the amount of data it’s receiving in real time. So you mutter, and complain that there’s no reason why this should be the case in a capital city in Australia, and give up and find something else to do (or maybe that’s just me).
I realised, when reading an article I now can’t find, that sometimes my mind can be like this too. I’ve got too much going on, trying to remember a million things to do and get to, while making decisions on matters big and small. This year’s started in that way – there’s been a lot going on. I usually have Thursdays, during school hours, to catch up, but the appointments have spilled into each Thursday as well, and I’ve found them as busy as any other day. Except for last Thursday.
For the first time this year, I had nothing specially scheduled and no one else at home (other than our elderly terrier, Rosie). I was able to get to an exercise class – noteworthy because it hasn’t happened much lately – and once I got home, I had four whole hours where it was just me and my dog.
- Sure – Four hours to cook, to do washing, to clean up, to fill in forms, etc.
- But – four hours in which there was silence. And in this case, that silence was gold!
No one talked to me. No one had the radio, music, tv, computers on in the background. No one was arguing – or laughing – or inviting me to join in.
The only sounds were from me chopping the dinner ingredients (or coming from the washing machines, or whatever) and the occasional pattering of my dog’s paws on the floorboards.
And after a little while, I realised that all sorts of thoughts came to my mind, thoughts I’d hadn’t had a chance to properly formulate over the previous weeks. I just noticed them as they came and stayed and went, only to be replaced by another thought. I remembered all sorts of things that needed to be done, but I didn’t make a note of them, at least, not at the time. because I didn’t want to distract my thinking. I felt like I was watching an old video tape, which had been tangled, being sorted out, and rewound correctly, in my head, while I continued to clean the house.
I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but it was actually the best feeling. After about an hour, I was so much less muddled than I’d been, and it was as if a weight was lifted. I didn’t need the full time and I found after that I was able to start acting on decisions I’d been struggling to make. I’d been dithering – stuck. Essentially my mind had been buffering due to overload. Having a quieter day provided me with enough bandwidth that I could process and make sense of the information and emotions I’d been storing up.
Of course, things moved back to normal fairly soon afterwards. I picked the kids up from school, their afternoon activities spilled into the evening and then we were back to work the next day, and life continued through until today. But last night, my husband took our kids out for dinner, leaving me with some time to be on my own and I’ve been reflecting (and again, having time to process) what benefits I experienced from that time alone.
What I realised – the importance of time, space, quiet, and self acceptance
So, if you’re at all like me, to avoid, or recover, from overwhelm, try the following:
Allow yourself time, space and quiet.
Put to one side any self judgment.
See where this takes you.
I know. Mental buffering could be addressed this way? And I understand the barriers:
- It doesn’t sound particularly original, does it? (yes, mindfulness and mediation have been all very popular this year, and I guess what I was doing was a form of that).
- Finding time can be a challenge. Space to yourself can sometimes (often? always?) be a challenge, as can quietness. But if you look for it, you may find there is more scope than you realise.
However – simple doesn’t necessarily mean wrong (or easy) – sometimes it’s simple because it works. I found that afterwards I felt much more capable of focusing on what was going on. I was actually able to notice the needs of others (rather than splitting my thinking), and I was less resentful.
I think it was because I was able to process a whole lot of thinking and feeling that had been stored up and needed to go somewhere. I provided the space – the bandwidth, if you like – to digest this, to make sense of it, to acknowledge it. It gave me more mental space again to continue to experience life – at a reasonable pace.
I realise that a period of four hours is not always achievable. Even one hour isn’t always achievable. But I do think making sure you make space for some time is. In fact, it’s vital. And so I’m on a mission now to work out how to carve out more quiet time on a regular basis.
My step is to work out an approach to ensure I maintain this processing time:
- Will it be systematic, such as journalling, regularly?
- Will it be more conscious, like pausing and watching and observing?
- Will it be using a program, such as smiling minds, for mindfulness?
- Will it be more of a physical process, such as yoga or other classes – or more regular walking and reflecting?
I’m not yet sure. What seems to work best for me is to mix it up. All have benefits, and all work at different levels. And now I’m realising this, I feel less anxious that I don’t tend to stick to one or the other – I switch, depending on interest (which I think is influenced by what I need).
However, I do know I need something. And given we are now in the midst of two weeks of school holidays, this is more important than ever!
Do you experience overwhelm, or mental buffering?
Do you have suggestions of how to manage it?