Recovery principles: 5 steps towards taking REAL brain breaks

Jerry shows up for our session a couple of minutes late. He appears flustered and digs through his backpack as he attempts to settle in. After a furtive glance at the screen, he sets his cell phone on the couch next to him like it is another guest in the room we simply cannot exclude. It takes Jerry the next ten minutes to land and breathe.

Jerry is not the only one. Jerry is becoming the norm.

What Jerry and all of us are increasingly doing is not good for our brains and well being.
We are forgetting how to fully enter into a meeting, a conversation, an interaction. We are forgetting how to take a break, how to settle and open ourselves to where we are and what is happening in real time.

The 5 steps

1. Acknowledge the absolute overload of the amount of information coming at us every moment of the day. Tweets, beeps, phone calls, texts, emails, internet info, entertainment, an impenetrable wall of advertisements in every form. In a recent NY Times article Daniel J. Levitin notes “..on a typical day, we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986.
2. We can only process so much. There is a point of overload and shut down. We simply cannot ask our brains to be task oriented in the midst of constant interruption. Yes I am referring to all of the demands on our attention: the tweets, the texts, the emails. We need time to focus and time to meander and daydream without the buzzing of a swarm of tiny demands.

3. We need to be able to make strong informational choices and not be lulled to sleep by the buzz. How do we do that? Most fundamentally: take a break, turn it off. Challenge false urgency. Be suave, be your own person. Dare to walk technologically naked for a few hours each day. Most of us would need to set a structure to do that. Three times a day turn your phone and computer off for an hour. In that hour focus on a task or meander and daydream, but allow your brain to do something fully. I am writing this now. I am not taking phone calls or checking emails. A very slight breeze is coming in. The morning light is a joy to notice. Creating one thought, one sentence after another is a delight and I have a slight smile on my face.

4. Wield your sword of discriminating awareness. Watching a dumb movie that is doing nothing for you? Swoosh. Turn it off. Following a thread of pointless discussion on the internet? Come back. Texting and checking while you’re with your kids after school. Come on. What is more important. And of course, meeting with your therapist. Let yourself make the most of that situation, let it be the refuge in all of the commotion it is meant to be. Give yourself that gift.
Cluster activity. Schedule time to work on projects, to make phone calls, to look at email. Cluster like with like. Your brain will thank you.


Jerry and I talked about how he was showing up and how exhausted he felt most of the time. We agreed that he would be at least five minutes early so that he could sit quietly in the waiting area or on the porch and compose himself. He has agreed, after being slightly horrified, that he can in fact turn off his phone while we are meeting. We then begin each session with a silent moment of grounding. So far, so good. At least during his therapy hour, Jerry gets a real brain break.

If you would like to read further, check out Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain by Daniel J. Levitin.

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