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    Resetting your racing mind, to calm down

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    January 23, 2005

    Lisa Dolan calls it "brain freeze." I see it as "mosquito mind." Kathleen Brown describes it as "a hummingbird on crack."

    Names aside, we all know just what it is - it's that fracturing that occurs when, despite starting out the day with an excellent plan and well-focused brain, we flip into racing-mind mode. You know, it's what happens when we get pulled away from the big picture and frantically hop from e-mail checking to scanning the same piece of paper for the 12th time to responding to yet another interruption.

    These days, with our brilliant technology, "we're in a state of high stimulation with multiple inputs and multiple outputs. It's like having a tennis match with two balls instead of one," says Edward M. Hallowell. He's co-author with John J. Ratey of "Delivered from Distraction - Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder" (Ballantine, $25.95).

    Clearly those with ADD don't have a corner on this problem; he says he hears from plenty of other people complaining of this splintered state of mind. His advice for us all is first and most important to "name the problem" and know that we can do something about it. Call it "modern life," he says, or a "multiheaded dragon you want to tame."

    Instead of trying to "suck it up, work harder, sleep less, steal time from other things," know that there are simple rituals you can perform to "reset" your mind. "Give yourself permission to make it manageable," he says.

    That's just what Benna Golubtchik of Belle Harbor learned by attending sessions held by Debbie Mandel, a stress management expert in Lawrence. Golubtchik, 58, a recently retired teacher now working for an educational nonprofit, says that when she gets frazzled now she tells herself, "I can handle this. This is another thing I can take control of." That alone, she says, "was huge."

    When various work complications or issues with her four grandchildren start to build, she knows to "break the tension and do something different." That might be taking a stretch or brief walk, or playing a simple video game like Solitaire or Snood. (Games are great, Hallowell says, as long as you don't get too absorbed.)

    Those "meditative, mindless things" help Golubtchik clear her thinking. And with a calmer mind, she can focus, not on all things, but "on one thing, and one thing I can handle."

    Certainly Hallowell and other experts say that to minimize the effects of life's increasing distractions we should do good foundation work - eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, drink water, learn good time/energy management practices. But sometimes we first need to do some triage in the moment to see that something really can make a difference.

    So here are a few simple approaches for getting calm and re-centered at work.

    Take a short breathing/meditation break and focus as much as possible on your breath, the inhaling, the exhaling - or on that Caribbean beach scene. Sorry, no multitasking during meditation. You might do this at your desk, in the rest room, an empty conference room, even your car, if need be.

    It's a practice that Lisa Dolan does when "brain freeze" sets in. While she may start off with "tons of energy and my Palm Pilot in hand," there are some days when she finds she's not focusing on that report she's trying so hard to read. So she hops in her car, drives to her home nearby, makes a cup of tea and meditates for half an hour. It's a way to regain perspective and become better grounded, says Dolan, 49, president and founder of Securit, a Flushing-based private investigation and security firm.

    Get your body moving. Instead of rushing for that caffeine fix, take a brisk walk or climb a few flights of stairs. If you work from home, you can do 25 jumping jacks or run in place. That helps reset your brain, Hallowell says.

    He also suggests seeking out a "human moment." Go have a 30- second chat with a co-worker, preferably not a long-winded one, about anything that's not work-related - who you think will win the Super Bowl or what you'll be making for dinner.

    Become more aware of your feet. Yes, indeed, says Jill Satterfield, when your mind is working overtime, you often "lose connection to the earth." You can bring your mind and energy back by imagining your feet in warm sand. "Wiggle your toes," says Satterfield, a yoga instructor in Manhattan. "Stretch the feet forward. Then, sit and feel that your feet are rooting deeply into the earth."

    Find something repetitive to do, like knitting, crocheting or quilting, which is what Brown, 51, of Holbrook, does. The proprietor of a bookkeeping service, she finds on days she works from home that those phone calls and unexpected client crises can move her toward hummingbird mode. So she'll pick up her quilting hoop and do some stitching for 15 minutes or so, which calms her mind right down.

    Get a drink of something hot - tea, soup, hot chocolate. Why? Because it's not easy to gulp, says Mandel, the stress management expert and author of "Turn on Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul" (Busy Bee Group, $14.95). Also, try stirring your tea in the opposite direction of how you usually do. That helps "break your pattern" and get you centered in the moment.

    If your boss is cool with it, listen for a while to a calming CD, using headphones, of course. How about Mozart or wave sounds or chanting? Or listen to the CD "Creative Visualization: Meditations," read by Shakti Gawain.

    Take a whiff of aromatherapy products you can keep in your desk (candles are not a wise choice in a workplace). Some aromas that help with stress: bergamot, geranium, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, patchouli, ylang ylang.

    Once you've cleared your mind, take a look at your desk again, tidy up the papers, review your "to do" list, and ask yourself what the next most important thing is for you to do.

    Please send your own ideas for "refocusing" rituals to pkitch

    Breathing new life into your day, at your desk

    You don't need any special pillows or shrines to perform the most basic meditation technique - following the breath, says Jill Satterfield, a Manhattan yoga instructor. You can do it sitting at your desk.

    Here are her guidelines:

    Close your eyes and allow them to soften into your skull. Allow your body to relax and loosen tension.

    Notice where you feel your breath the most - the belly, the chest or maybe just at the entrance to the nostrils. Now, settle into "watching" it. Pretend you're watching someone else's breath. That helps you be more of an impartial observer.

    See if you can feel or notice four points of breath - inhale, pause, exhale, pause.

    Allow your breath to roll in and out like waves in the ocean.

    Allow any thoughts that come into your mind to pass through, as if they were clouds. When you notice you are thinking of things other than your breathing, no problem. Just nicely bring your mind back to the breath.


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