Pause with a Cause- The New Indian Express


Express News Service

Saba Sharif is an aspiring novelist. She moved from Patna to Delhi in 2021 to pursue her writing dream. To support herself in the city, she took up a full-time job as a content writer. The pressure to meet deadlines, marathon meetings and unpredictable work hours, however, left the 31-year-old with little time to write. When she did manage to find a window, she couldn’t concentrate.

Her therapist recognised the impact of persistent stress on her creativity and introduced Sharif to ‘metacognitive pause’, a technique of intentionally interrupting set thinking and behaviourial patterns to foster introspection. This included self-assessment through a weekly SWOT process (writing down her strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and working on changing one pattern a week), in addition to undertaking sensorial experiences such as a walk in the park, visiting an art gallery or indulging in aromatherapy. These breaks allowed her to pause the automatic flow of daily routine and gain better control over her emotions. Soon Sharif overcame her writing paralysis.

Sharif’s story of recovery is echoed by many others like her. To help them navigate the demands of present-day lives, experts recommend taking bite-sized introspective breaks, which help recalibrate the nervous system for better cognition, improved social intelligence and a resilient mindset. Here are some of the tools that can lead to a more productive and fulfilling life.

Synaptic breaks
In highly charged cognitive environments, where there is multi-tasking, uncertainty and continuous use of technology, synaptic breaks offer respite from decision fatigue. The intervention engages the brain in short activities that synchronise brainwaves (aligning the electrical activity of neurons in the brain).

“This can be performed through ‘object manipulation break’, wherein you close your eyes and take a small, textured object (a stone, fabric, pencil, stress ball or a fidget spinner) and explore it slowly. Notice the physical sensations while breathing deeply, allowing for relaxation, before going back to the original task. Repeat this every time you feel stress building up,” says Dr Rahul Chandhok, head consultant, mental and behavioural science, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram.  

Using the power of active contemplation, neuro-insight stimulates existing synaptic connections (the places in the brain where neurons connect and communicate with each other) and foster new ones to sharpen environmental awareness. “The easiest way to use this tool is through an exercise that involves rhythm and auditory perceptivity. Select an overlooked sound from your environment (a ticking clock, birdsong, sound of footsteps, buzzing of insects, wind). Focus on it, examining its qualities—volume, pitch, timbre and duration.

Now try and weave these into a rhythmic pattern, delving deeper into the soundscape. It’s now time to introduce slow kinesthetic movements such as tapping of fingers, limb movements or just swaying to the auditory rhythm just created. Stay in this state for a few minutes and conclude with a few moments of contemplation on what you’ve experienced,” says Mehrotra. He believes the simple routine can boost creativity and improve information retention, in addition to enhancing problem-solving capabilities. It is particularly beneficial for those facing cognitive fatigue.

Rapid neural reset
Gurugram-based IT professional Rohit Sharma implemented rapid neural reset on the behest of a colleague. Every day during lunch hour, he would go into the conference room, dim the lights and use the three-pronged approach of disconnection from the environment, rapid breathing and visualisation to reset his autonomic nervous system. He did this daily for 10 minutes and saw a difference in his ability to manage crises and extreme temperaments at work.

“The focused breathing increases oxygenation, which lowers the release of stress hormones and increases a sense of calm. Disconnection and visualisation relax the mind, prepping it for improved performance,” says Dr Saurabh Mehrotra, associate director, of Mental Health, Institute of Neurosciences, Medanta, Gurugram, adding, “Do this for no longer than five minutes a day so that it doesn’t become a distraction tool.” Supplementing it with walking meditation, mindful immersion in music, chanting of mantras, practising gratitude and moving one’s body frequently will amplify results.

Perceptual calibration
Useful for those who find themselves in persistent cycles of emotional dysregulation such as intense emotions, rigidity and cognitive reappraisal difficulty, perceptual calibration offers a quick solution. The method leverages neural plasticity—the nervous system’s capacity to modify itself—to provide relief. “The tool here is breath awareness to slow down thoughts.

This can be coupled with a quick body scan too, which involves noticing sensations in different parts and anchoring the awareness in the safe release of suppressed emotions. Another way to do this is by observing nature. Step outside and name three things you can see, touch, hear and smell. This intentional adjustment of sensory perception refreshes cognitive pathways and fights overwhelm, reducing mental overload and disrupting referential thinking,” says Dr Chandhok.

Break Benefits  
• A few minutes is all you need
• These can be undertaken anytime, anywhere without the use of any fancy tool
• Since these are bite-sized breaks, they create healthy shifts without causing any disruption in the way you feel
• These therapeutic modalities are free of cost. The only requirement is personal engagement.

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