It’s about 6:45 a.m. as I sit at my desk in my home office. Coffee cup in hand, I’m watching the doves and squirrels gobble up the seeds I just put out. I do this every morning and it’s probably the favorite part of my day.
This morning, for some reason, I noticed, I mean really noticed, that all the trees in the yard were green and lush after the heavy rains we’ve had over the last few weeks. All the trees are flourishing except for two, they are gray and bare. Often my thought process is a bit like the children’s game connect-the-dots and see what animal you find, this morning I’m connecting the dots with the resting avocado trees. I googled ‘dormancy’ and here’s the Wikipedia definition:
Dormancy is a period in an organism’s life cycle when growth, development, and (in animals) physical activity are temporarily stopped. This minimizes metabolic activity and therefore helps an organism to conserve energy. Dormancy tends to be closely associated with environmental conditions.
In plant physiology, dormancy is a period of arrested growth. It is a survival strategy exhibited by many plant species, which enables them to survive in climates where part of the year is unsuitable for growth, such as winter or dry seasons.
In the zone or zoning out – you choose.
Isn’t that interesting? What appears to be lifeless without much chance of coming back, is just resting. When bears do it, it’s called hibernation. Humans do it too, but what is it called when we do?
The terribly unscientific term that first comes to mind is zoning out. Have you ever sat down for a minute and the next thing you know, an hour has gone by and you realize you’ve been lost in thought? This can happen due to overwhelm, you’ve got so many things on your mind you just need a break and drift off while still awake. It can happen because of physical or mental fatigue or lack of sleep. Boredom can also cause you to zone out and even fall asleep. It’s helpful to recognize when you’re feeling this way and address the cause.
Zoning out often or for long periods of time can be a psychological response to stress, trauma or overwhelm, among other things. The term ‘disassociation’ describes a coping mechanism to deal with a stressful situation, it can be triggered by your fight/flight/freeze stress response. It’s like you just disconnect and go numb. While this can be helpful if you’re trying to outrun a saber tooth tiger, habitually going into this state in modern day life can negatively affect your quality of life. Repeatedly checking out can lead you to being non-productive or avoid dealing with decisions in every day life. This avoidance can cause additional stress, shame, weight gain and/or holding you back from reaching your full potential. It can become a negative cycle.
These repressed emotions can lead to anxiety, depression, weight gain, loss of stamina, loneliness, missed opportunities and hurt your relationships.
What can you do?
Defense mechanisms like zoning out, done often enough, can become a habit. The first step is to recognize when and how often you’re retreating into this thought pattern. What happens just before you zone out?
Write it down. Write down what you are feeling, if you had an interaction with someone, did you open an unpleasant email, simply note the last thing that happened right before you checked out.
Change your environment. I’m not saying to leave work or move to a new home, get up and go into another room, get a drink of water, take a walk. Shake it off, get your blood moving and when you feel more energy, read what you wrote down when you were feeling zone out.
As you read your notes, do you still get the same feeling overwhelm? Was it just boredom? Was there a physical or emotional risk or threat? Is there a decision you need to make? Confusion or uncertainty can send you into fight/flight/freeze mode. If there is something you need to face, yet feel stuck, seek help by talking to someone if necessary.
Was it simply boredom?
Yoga, meditation, journaling or creative visualization are all amazing tools to deal with defense mechanisms like zoning out. Exercise is proven to combat depression.
The important thing is to address issues that are preventing you from living a happy, productive and fulfilling life as soon as you are aware of the issue. Life is short and you deserve to be safe and happy. We all do.