I know it’s tempting to be mindless. To just unhook your brain and not worry about things.
And sure, we all need breaks now and again. It’s important to have times when you’re doing something that doesn’t require concentration or focused thought. Things like knitting… watching cute animal videos (or just cute animals)… taking a hot shower or bath… folding laundry… shelling peas… going for a walk… you get the idea. These are all things that can give you a mental break.
But to me, this is different than being mindless. I think of mindlessness as not paying any attention to what you’re doing, with no consideration of whether this is what you want or need. And without thinking about possible consequences.
That’s where it’s gets dangerous.
Because whether you’re thinking about them or not, your actions – or inactions – have consequences. And if you don’t get what you really need, you still won’t be satisfied.
This is true about many things, including food. For some of us, especially food.
It’s easy to feel like food is a safe choice for something mindless. It doesn’t seem to have a lot of negative consequences, and it can feel like you’re not hurting anyone else.
But it’s not that simple. A lot of times, we want to be mindless to avoid dealing with something painful. Maybe it’s a family situation. Loss of a loved one. Job stress. Broader news about what’s going on in the country and world.
The problem with mindlessness in these cases is two-fold. One, it doesn’t do anything to address the actual problem. Whatever it is will still be there, whether you want to face it or not. And it will keep coming up.
Two, being truly mindless doesn’t rejuvenate you in any way. It doesn’t give you more energy. In fact, if you use food and overeat, you’re likely to end up with less energy. It doesn’t give you strength… encouragement… or even enjoyment. Which means that when what you’re avoiding comes up again, you’re even less prepared to deal with it.
Plus, because you haven’t gotten what you needed, you may end up taking this out on other people in your life.
But still, you’ll have times when you do need a break, to step back. So what do you do?
What you can do other than eat
First, acknowledge that you’re not prepared to deal with it in the moment. And recognize that not dealing with it won’t make it go away. (I mean for serious issues – occasionally smaller annoyances will go away on their own.)
Second, consider what would actually make you feel more prepared to handle it.
Are you low on energy? Maybe you need a nap. Or to sit out in the sun to watch the clouds and birds. Or dance around to some upbeat music. Or do something that makes you laugh.
Maybe you need strength and courage more. You could try standing like Superman – it really does help. Or think back to another hard thing you’ve succeeded at. Remember, you’re stronger than you think And also that it’s okay to ask for help.
But what if you don’t know how to deal with whatever it is? What if it’s completely outside your experience? Try to find someone who has been through something similar. It might be someone you know. Or maybe find some advice online. Or talk to a professional.
It also can help to prepare. If you need to have a hard conversation with someone, see if you can get a trusted friend or family member to role play with you. Go through the worst things you can think of and figure out how you’ll respond. Or if you’re worried about losing your job, maybe you should update your resume and start seeing what other options you might have. Think of what makes sense for your situation.
If it’s something you truly can’t control, maybe what you need to do is let go. This is tough, but sometimes this is the best thing to do. Because if you can’t change whatever it is, and focusing on it is just making things worse for you, you’d do much better to let it go and focus on what you can change or do instead.
Whatever you decide, taking some kind of action will help you far more than mindless eating (or being completely mindless in any respect).
But if you’re going to eat…
Of course, eating is still an option. But if you do that, try to make it a deliberate choice – and then actually pay attention and enjoy it! You’ll still feel better than if you ate mindlessly, and you’ll have gotten a pleasurable distraction. You won’t just be sitting there with a full stomach and wondering how the bag or box or plate or bowl is already empty, without having tasted any of it.
Do you have a favorite activity that nourishes or energize or strengthen yourself? I’d love to hear it!
And in the meantime, here’s to staying mindful, whatever that looks like for you.