Each of us can have times (frequent or not so many) where we have difficulty with focus. It’s always been that way. We can be anywhere and find ourselves drifting our focus onto something else. It doesn’t mean we are dealing with attention-deficit disorder to experience this. It doesn’t even mean we are always physically tired when it is an issue. And the sources of the challenge to focus can come from more than one direction.
Some of it relates to the way our brains collect and store information and a lot of information is coming at us every moment of the day in addition to what we already have stored. One of the worst parts is that highly emotionally tinged memories of things that were not so good or hurtful often want to stay in the forefront of our thoughts where we can be prone to reworking them to try to sort out what and why it happened, how it happened, and whether we should have or could have stopped or prevented it.
“As important as it is to rest your body, it’s equally important to quiet your mind from the ongoing influx of information it receives. Much like our social media news feeds, our mental background noise is often infused with negativity. Thoughts about the future are contaminated with anxiety, thoughts about the past are tainted with regret, and thoughts about the present are spoiled with discontentment.”Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
Our brains are working all the time (not unlike our heart and other parts of our body). God created an incredible thing when He created our brains. They are so complex that science and medicine has yet to learn a great deal about them. That marvelous pump we call our heart that works hard despite so many ways we ignore it already is more understood than the brain.
“The brain is involved in everything you do. How you think, how you feel, how you act, and how well you get along with other people has to do with moment-by-moment functioning of your brain.
When your brain works right, you tend to be effective, thoughtful, creative, and energetic.
Your brain has only so much reserve.”Dr. Daniel Amen
The vast work Dr. Daniel Amen has done to research the brain has grown in popularity over time as he discovers more and more about how it functions and how it may not if it has been damaged, neglected, or overworked for too long. For all we do not know or cannot always change, the hope he offers is that we can change habits that get in the way of it being at the best possible no matter what our age.
We tend to think about minds that are overworked in connection with students at every level and many jobs and professions that require intense high-capacity thinking, but there is more that can put our brains in overload. We can be overloaded with decisions and demands that we feel no match for such as times of facing a major health crisis (our own or someone else’s), times when we have a chronic situation over which we have little control that wears us down little-by-little, chronic pain many suffer from, and more.
“When left unchecked, clutter happens. Your mind is no different. It can hold an inconceivable amount of information. It is also able to fill, sort, and arrange information effectively. The life-changing power of tidying up your mind starts with letting go of those thoughts that are not producing a positive effect on your life.”Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
It isn’t only our eating and exercise habits we need to work on. We need to recognize the habits of our thoughts and minds that developed somewhat haphazardly over time need to change as well and that won’t be easy for any one of us. Even so, we need mental rest, and we need to recognize it is a value we must courageously pursue.
What are some of the evidences of a need for mental rest Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, has identified?
- Feeling like we can’t keep up with our mental “to do” list
- Experiencing irritation or frustration when thinking about your day
- Choosing to avoid some things because you are afraid you will make an error
- Feeling like you are in a mental fog or drowsy during the day
- Snapping at family members or coworkers about insignificant things
- Spending most of your day on things you find overwhelming
1995 was a time when I was experiencing a deficit of rest in multiple areas and certainly physically and mentally. I was working in a private practice 30 minutes from home and my husband was working for a counseling agency 45 minutes in the opposite direction when my dad developed pneumonia that did not respond to outpatient antibiotic treatment. He had always been an active healthy man (even at 84), but out of nowhere he was in the hospital and soon in ICU on a ventilator. My mother who at 79 had several chronic health issues was hospitalized soon after as well.
Even though they lived just a few miles from us things became very complicated quickly. My brother lived with them and had various developmental delays and emotional and mental issues and could not live alone. Suddenly he needed to live at our house while I navigated making all the decisions for each parent and handle his needs as well and still work as much as I could. My dad would die after remaining in the hospital for five and a half weeks. My mother would be in and out of the hospital twice during that time and the death of my father ended 55 years of marriage for them and even more demands. My mother then died 3 months to the date of my father’s death, and I became my brother’s legal guardian. Some seasons can be like that for us. Yours may be different. Yours may not have come yet, but life hands us hard seasons with no reprieve.
Changing your thought life to improve regular better mental rest will take time. Your journey in that will need God as your partner.
“As you deal with changing your thought life, you will need to depend on God’s power to help you. Furthermore, change will only come about if you agree to change. God does not force change on uncooperative participants.”Dr. Archibald Hart
“The most valuable thing you can do for your sanity is to let your mind rest and allow room for regeneration of what’s being depleted every day.”Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
Our efforts will never be enough. It starts with humbly calling on the One who knows us best and loves us most – God. He is the one who knows the path we take, our strengths and weaknesses, our challenge with resolve and more.
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)