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health and wellness

Pausing – The Mindset Trick That Calms An Overloaded Mind

Dec 21, 2023

Stop. Take a deep breath.

Think about the last time you paused for a moment. 

When was the last time you intentionally took a breather? 

We have so much on our to-do lists that we habitually move from task to task without pausing. 

We live in a society that rewards productivity above all else. Our culture conditions us to constantly think “on to the next” instead of pausing to appreciate and celebrate our accomplishments. We frequently keep ourselves busy out of fear of being seen as lazy. However, high levels of stress can cause nervous system dysregulation.

Our minds are chronically overstimulated with thoughts. Even when you’re watching TV, your mind is also thinking about that email you need to respond to or the dishes that need to be washed. We’re often not aware of this heightened stress state. The book, The book, The Stress Prescription: 7 Days to More Joy and Ease, by Elissa Epel, PhD,1 describes this elevated mindset as the “yellow mind,” an elevated baseline of cognitive load. 

Yet, for brain and mental health, we need to spend more time in a “green mind.” According to Epel, the green mind is a pleasant state of relaxation that we experience when we’re not multitasking. We can achieve this state of mind by engaging in activities such as reading a good book, observing nature or art, or simply being at ease and fully present with a friend at dinner.

The state of “blue mind” is even more restful, as described by Epel. We enter this deep state of restoration when we are in a quiet and safe environment. It’s possible to be in a blue mind while meditating and in the deepest stages of sleep.

When addressing stress and burnout, it’s essential to have tools to shift out of the yellow mind. Pausing is a way to do that. 


Stress Reduction In The Moment


As you move through your day, awareness of your stress is key to making healthy changes. You can’t change your habits if you’re not aware of them. So when you pause and notice how you’re feeling, you can take steps to regulate your nervous system.

When you catch yourself in the yellow mind, it’s powerful to name your emotions. The act of identifying what you’re feeling is an important element of enhancing our self-awareness and emotionally intelligence. 

Let’s consider complaining, for instance, which tends to be a response from the yellow mind. The average person complains 15-30 times per day according to A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen.2  Once again, being aware of how much you complain is the first step. Pausing and rewording what you were going to say reframes your mindset. Stating a feeling is healthy processing and a sign of emotional intelligence, but whining and griping to anyone who will listen promotes a more yellow mind.

For instance, let’s say you get upset by an email. Pause and name the emotion: annoyed, frustrated, disappointed. Say the emotion out loud to yourself, “I feel frustrated.” Then follow that with self-compassion, such as, “This is a hard moment. It’s understandable to feel this way.” By positively reframing your situation, you can shift your mindset and empower yourself. This shift in perspective can help you gain new insights.



Getting Into A Green Mind


The content, relaxed state of green mind is a goal of self-care. Here are habits you can adopt to regularly reach a calm headspace.

Record small wins. It’s important to acknowledge small victories. Whenever you contribute to something that went well, write it down. For instance, if you got up early and avoided running late, that’s a win! Or, if you finally sent an email that you had been procrastinating on sending. that’s also a win! Journaling at the end of the day to record these small wins, you train your brain to focus on success, which calms the the nervous system.

Walk outdoors. Taking a walk outside is beneficial for your physical, emotional and mental health. Not only will you burn calories, but you will also get a dose of vitamin D and a chance to quiet the chatter in your mind. Notice the sounds of birds, the sights of green trees, the smell of cut grass, flowers, or rain. Engage the senses to fully experience a sense of awe.

Attend a retreat. Attending a retreat can be a great way to reconnect with yourself and relieve stress. Reduce your stress by getting out of the office or regular environment and breaking away from your daily routine. Retreats are often in scenic locations and have health and wellness professionals to support you. Often, we don’t realize how much stress we’re carrying until we return home from the getaway. But it’s in that moment that you really feel the difference between a ”yellow mind” (stressed) and “green mind” (relaxed).


While we can’t avoid stress altogether, we can utilize many tools mitigate its impact. By practicing these techniques, we enhance our resilience. The common factor that the above tools have in common is pausing. It’s now up to you to personalize this technique by intentionally pausing in ways that work best for you.


Book References:

1) Epel, Elissa. The Stress Prescription: Seven Days to More Joy and Ease. Penguin Life, 2022.

2) Bowen, Will. A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Enjoy the Life You Always Wanted. Harmoney, 2007.


About the Author

As the founder of the Lakefront Retreat Network, Sara Lewis produces collaborative retreats for coaches to share hosting responsibilities. Sara is a personal development junkie, an avid self-help book lover, book club host, and has been published in multiple publications, including, IDEA Fitness Journal, and When she’s not working, you can find Sara relaxing by the lake or walking her dog.


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