5 Ways to Reconnect with your Body in the Age of Overstimulation
We have become connected to everyone and everything, except for the most vital part of ourselves: the body. Here are five key ways to tune back in.
Over the last few years I’ve developed a worrying habit. At some point in the day, every day without fail, I find myself scrolling mindlessly on my phone, not comprehending what I’m even looking at. And not caring either. In these moments, I am almost motionless. My spine is bent unnaturally and uncomfortably, and I have zero idea of how long I’d been slumped over.
Usually, this zoned-out slump comes after a long day of overstimulation. Content overload. Too much information. You know the drill.
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A busy mind
It all starts right when I wake up, with a morning scroll. Then, of course, I put a podcast on to pass the time on my long commute. I usually add a healthy sprinkle of replying to messages, then work emails. Maybe I add some light reading in the form of Instagram captions. Then, I switch buses, so naturally I switch up my reading material. My latest nonfiction ebook is always loaded and ready to go. After that comes the onslaught of article snippets, red flagged emails, newspaper headlines, Whatsapp group chats. Music in one ear, a philosophy podcast in the other. Then repeat.
My mind is constantly busy. It runs through scenarios, absorbs endless flows of information, flexes to find creative solutions. But from the outside? It looks like I’m standing (or sitting) still.
Some of the time, I forget I even have a body. I’m not being dramatic here — I just mean I forget to move around and stretch my limbs. Sitting in deep focus, I stop paying attention to things like hunger cues. The only reminder that I’m in my body at all might be an unexpected bout of pins and needles, or the chill of a winter breeze on my face.
And next thing I know, it’s the end of the day, and that familiar zoned-out slump hits me like a ton of bricks.
A well connected mind
Recent market research shows that Americans spend most of their waking hours staring at screens. I would wager a guess that the same applies to most of Western society. My own bad tech habits reflect those of far too many. So many of us spend our days flicking between smartphone and laptop, between Kindle and Netflix. In all this commotion, we forget to check in with our bodies. We forget to tend to our bodies’ needs.
In this way, we disconnect with the most vital part of ourselves, the part that keeps us alive and breathing — all while staying connected to everything that is external.
Does this mean we need to ditch our tech? Absolutely not. It would hardly be reasonable to give up crucial aspects of our jobs, our relationships, our main sources of entertainment even. Turning our back on technology is no longer a viable solution. It’s not feasible, it’s not fun, and it isn’t necessary.
The truth is, we don’t need to go to extremes to reconnect with our sense of vitality. Sometimes, all it takes is a few gentle reminders that we don’t live our lives solely in the comfort of our mind. Instead, we live in both body and mind. This duality is crucial to our existence and our wellness. So next time you’re feeling zoned out and distant from your body, try a few of these simple tips.
1. Make something physical
When I worked as a barista, I was constantly moving. I stocked shelves, steamed milk, wiped down the marble countertops.
I was also constantly making something — in this case, hundreds of lattes and flat whites a day.
Though the shifts could be long and exhausting, the work relied a lot on muscle memory so it wasn’t too mentally stimulating. Still, I finished most days with a sense of satisfaction. That’s because I got immediate gratification of physically creating something. No matter how small, my work had the potential to improve a customer’s day. A few seconds of concentrated effort, and here it was — visible proof of my physical work, served in a cute ceramic cup. Next, please!
One long stagnant email chain
Those of us who work office jobs or do most of our work online don’t always have that immediate sense of gratification. Deadlines can stretch out over weeks and months and every piece of the puzzle needs multiple rounds of back-and-forth approval. Between email chains and sales pipelines, it can be easy to forget what outcome we’re working to reach. Sometimes it feels like nothing ever gets done at all, and everything meshes into an undistinguishable stretch. No wonder so many employees report feeling unhappy at work!
If you’ve been feeling like nothing is getting done and life feels like one big zone out, try making something physical. This could be anything at all that floats your boat.
Whether you try a local pottery class with a friend, channel your inner Ron Swanson and immerse yourself in a DIY project or start teaching yourself to watercolour, you’ll come out with a physical product that you can see, touch, smell, and photograph. You will put your hands to use and end up with physical proof of your accomplishment. Plus, many of these activities are soothing and meditative.
No matter what new activity you try, you’ll feel more connected to your body as you work away.
One place to find a bunch of classes to learn all these new skills is Skillshare — you can get your free 2 week trial here.
2. Get moving
A surefire way to feel more in touch with your physical self is to get moving.
It can be as simple as a daily lunchtime walk or as complicated as a new gym routine. Either way, the key is to make space for exercise in your life. Research shows that doing as little as 10 minutes of exercise can make a huge difference to your happiness levels. It can reduce the risk of depression, anxiety and help to keep stress at bay. Not only does exercise lift your spirits: it also helps you feel more connected to your sense of self.
Truly, there’s nothing that makes me feel more alive than the flushed rush after a cardio session. Though the context differs, my favourite Sylvia Plath quote comes to mind: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
There’s also nothing that makes me feel more connected to my body than a strength training session. Body builders have been emphasising the importance of mind-muscle connection for years. When you really focus on the muscle you’re training and consciously connect to it, you get the best results. You isolate individual muscles in your workout by truly connecting and tuning into your body.
So, whenever I’m feeling a little disconnected, I ask myself when I last got a good workout in. Then, I lay down the building blocks for more movement in my life. I block in a 20 minute walk to the bus stop after work, a gym session in the evening, a hike the following weekend.
And just to note: incorporating slow movement is important too! Starting your day with gentle stretches or a short yoga flow can tune you into what’s going on both inside and out.
3. Silence the noise
If overstimulation and content overload is making you feel either overwhelmed or disconnected, it’s time to review your usage patterns. How much time are you spending on your phone? How much time do you spend scrolling mindlessly? If you’re anything like me, these answers can be quite shocking.
Nearly every major social media app has an activity timer these days. If you’re an iPhone user, these stats are directly available, and if you use Android, you can easily download an activity tracking app. Once you’ve reviewed your usage and balked that you’ve been spending far more time watching cooking videos on YouTube than actually cooking meals for yourself, use this information to your advantage.
Set a timer, or set mental cues that will alert you whenever you’ve been staring at a screen for too long. Then, make it a habit to do some jumping jacks or some breathing exercises when the time comes. Stretch. Remind yourself that you’re here, in this moment. And whenever you can, try to reduce the amount of content streams you’re absorbing at any given moment. Let yourself look out the bus window on the way home. Leave your headphones at home and enjoy a quiet walk every once in a while. Give yourself permission to just be in the moment.
One of my favourite mindfulness exercises is to stop in my tracks and make a mental note of all 5 senses. You can do this right now. In your head, list 5 things you can see right now. Then, list 5 things you can hear, touch, taste and smell. This type of exercise keeps you anchored to where you are, and is especially helpful for anyone suffering with anxiety symptoms. It certainly helps reassure you that you’re here, in your body.
4. Get your sleep in order
I feel like a complete hypocrite writing this tip, because sleep is my kryptonite. For the past few months especially, I’ve been struggling to get to sleep at a decent hour. It’s not that I have trouble sleeping, it’s that I simply don’t go to bed when I know I should. I often stay up longer than necessary for one more scroll through social media or one last episode of a Netflix show. Even when my eyes are refusing to stay open, I still put off going to bed. There’s so many things to do!
There are endless benefits to prioritising a healthy sleeping routine. There are whole bestselling books written on the subject!
A good night’s rest aids memory retention, allows skin cells to regenerate and grow stronger, and sharpens your focus the next day. And that’s the thing: feeling more awake makes you feel sharper and more aware of what’s going on around you, making you less prone to zone out to mindless distractions. Plus, it leaves you with more energy to do all the other items on this list.
So, here’s my pledge to start taking sleep seriously. Refusing to go to sleep when my body is sending me all the obvious signals is a blatant act of self sabotage. Therefore, I will channel my focus into earlier bedtimes and limit distractions before bed. It’s time to reconnect with deep rest.
5. Slow down and breathe
Finally, a tip that may seem incredibly obvious to most, and that is to just breathe. Noticing the pattern of your breath is the single most accessible way to reconnect with your physical sense of self. Deep breathing is a proven stress reliever, and it can help to ease you into a deep sleep or release tension at panicked times.
Most meditation practices put breath work at the focal point for a reason. Noticing your breath reconnects you with your physical body, and allows you to notice it without judgement. When I first started meditating, I found it incredibly difficult to notice my natural breathing pattern. That’s because I wasn’t used to paying attention to it at all. Every day of my life, I had taken this huge aspect of my physical being for granted. With the exception of bouts of nerves and workout sessions, my breathing was less noticeable than background noise.
Noticing your breathing, by extension, helps you notice your body for what it does every single day: keeping you alive. Once you get into the habit of reconnecting with this living, breathing sense of self, you’ll always be able to tune into a deeper and more connected sense of self.
Breath work is where mind and body truly come together. Whether you do it through an app like Calm or simply close your eyes and count your breaths for a few minutes, the results are largely the same. You’ll eventually build it into a habit and tune in at will.
And if you’re interested in deep breathing techniques for anxiety, check out this guide to 4-7-8 breathing.
How do you find ways to reconnect?
That’s all from me for today. After writing this I feel an urge to follow all of the tips at once. I want to taste my food properly, listen only to the wind on my way home, and go for a long cardio session at the gym. I want to do all of the things that make me feel most alive, most present. As incredible as the great wave of content and information is, I can’t help but feel that there should be a balance. We are here to do things, not just absorb them. And reconnecting with our physical self is the first step to finding that sweet spot.
As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments below or over on Instagram. And while you’re here, why not check out my weekly planning routine — another great way to reduce mental clutter on an everyday basis.