Author Topic: Struggling to turn the brain off  (Read 10811 times)

Mr. Green

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Struggling to turn the brain off
« on: July 20, 2017, 01:28:56 PM »
I know there are a lot of engineers here and I think this issue might be more prevalent in "thinkers" than the general population. Maybe someone has some helpful advice I haven't heard yet.

I'm generally a happy person but when I have moments of deep reflection I can't help but feel like there is something eating away at my core, like a dark undercurrent because I'm no longer focused on anything that is meaningful to me. I have these bouts where I become fixated on that and it just really jacks up my day.

I have a hard time believing that it's anxiety because I don't really have much to be anxious right now, though I am still on anti-anxiety medication from issues I had earlier this year. However these feelings of wanting to focus on something meaningful have been rattling around up there for years. There are times when I pursue activities that are physically exerting because it's the only thing that seems to shut my brain down, put me in "machine mode."

Finding something meaningful to focus my energy on would be nice but I would really love to figure out how to change my thinking instead. I'd love to be able to be happy just existing, in a healthy body. I think maybe I just ruminate too much and I don't really know how to turn it off.

Have any other FIRE'ees had this problem?
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stoaX

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2017, 03:29:06 PM »
Posting to follow.   I'm in one more year syndrome and starting to realize that it's one thing to say "when I'm retired I'm gonna do this and that and the other and won't it be great" and actually dealing with the vacuum left behind when the job is gone, is quite another. 

My thought is to create a schedule for everyday that gets followed..more or less..  But I'm not sure that really gets you to be "happy just existing".  Maybe it's a crutch to get you there, i.e. a way of transitioning to the new state of mind. 

Best of luck!

ixtap

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2017, 03:33:23 PM »
Have you tried meditation?

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2017, 05:04:39 PM »
As a fellow engineer, I can say that I am truly happy when I am building something. Find a project that you can sink your teeth into. It need not even be in your field. I am redoing my master bath, the design and selection is giving me a lot of satisfaction.

I think you are a software engineer. Can you build something that can be of help the FIRE community? I would love a project like this if there are any good suggestions.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2017, 05:09:41 PM »
Have you tried meditation?

+1 to this. I'm not yet FIREd, but I very much experience the "I think maybe I just ruminate too much and I don't really know how to turn it off" feeling you described.

I'm still really new to meditation and find it difficult, but even meager attempts have been helpful to me. Check your library for guided meditation CDs and audio books.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2017, 05:28:10 PM »
I'd love to be able to be happy just existing, in a healthy body.

I don't think that's how humans work. Solving interesting problems is important for our happiness. I'd imagine this is probably more true for engineers than the rest of the population.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2017, 05:58:53 PM by Optimiser »

Mr. Green

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2017, 05:33:58 PM »
Have you tried meditation?
I haven't. I think I'll check out my local library tomorrow for some books on meditation. An ex-coworker of mine mentioned Yin Yoga to me once. It's a style of yoga that's supposed to be more like meditation with a focus on breathing a holding poses for a longer period of time. Your question jarred my memory. Turns out there's a yoga studio in my town and they have a Yin Yoga class this Sunday. I might just give that a try as well.
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CU Tiger

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2017, 06:05:37 PM »

I have a hard time believing that it's anxiety because I don't really have much to be anxious right now, though I am still on anti-anxiety medication from issues I had earlier this year.

All I can say to this is that some days I feel like I have been anxious my whole life. As a kid. As an adult. When things were hellish and when life was great. Sometimes I know what I am anxious about and other times it is just amorphous free-floating anxiety.

I do not know if you are anxious or not, but there does not have to be a reason to be anxious.
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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2017, 07:17:06 PM »
I found, like many others, it takes about 6 months for your paradigm to shift.  You have find meaning in "who you are", rather than "what you do".  Trust me when I say it is more satisfying that way.
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Mr. Green

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2017, 07:39:02 PM »
I found, like many others, it takes about 6 months for your paradigm to shift.  You have find meaning in "who you are", rather than "what you do".  Trust me when I say it is more satisfying that way.
I understand what you mean and it  makes sense. I suppose this is part of the problem. Leaving work for me was like being reborn. Despite what I've read about the transition I didn't expect things to be so extreme.
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kenaces

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2017, 08:37:35 PM »
Have you tried meditation?

+1

I would suggest you checkout headspace app/website to learn

gerardc

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2017, 11:51:49 PM »
I find the best way to turn your brain off is intense physical activity and social interactions. Surround yourself with people who favor those activities to kickstart things as motivation. Your blood will flow in other parts of your body and brain and I bet it will be a nice change of pace. It's hard though if you're addicted to satisfying your sense of purpose through a small set of activities.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2017, 04:59:35 AM »
Ptf

Ishmael

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #13 on: July 21, 2017, 06:26:04 AM »
Went to psychologist recently about this very thing. She highly recommended practising mindfulness, which is learning to focus on the present, and what your senses are perceiving at any moment in time. Meditation is the training tool to learn how to do that.

Lots of resources online, including pretty much every second article on zenhabits.net. 

Her specific recommendations were:
  • Look for Jon Kabat Zinn's "Body Scan" meditation on youtube.
  • Look for the book, "Full Catastrophe Living" by the same guy.

I haven't followed the program like I should, but the little bits I've done and have made a huge difference. Highly recommend.

Psychstache

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #14 on: July 21, 2017, 07:34:54 AM »
Have you tried meditation?

+1

I would suggest you checkout headspace app/website to learn
+2

Headspace is a great way to get started.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #15 on: July 21, 2017, 07:40:45 AM »
10% happier app/book helps

tomita

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #16 on: July 21, 2017, 07:07:11 PM »
IMO, (this always works for me) read a book, maybe any book
Latest book I enjoyed  is  "The Rosie Project"

pigpen

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #17 on: July 22, 2017, 07:25:09 AM »
Another vote for meditation. I'm anxious and OCD by nature, and it's changed my life. It's not the kind of thing that will work overnight, so you need to stick with it, but you'll gradually find that you're able to just acknowledge those thoughts and then let them go, instead of actively engaging them and running around in mental circles. It will be hard when you start, but that's normal.

Think of it as mental and emotional badassity. To use a financial analogy, your 'stache will increase and decrease in the short term, but will trend up over time. One day three/five/ten years from now, your SO/parents/friends/somebody will say, You know, you're a hell of a lot more relaxed in [Situation A] than you used to be. What did you do?

Anyway, get a book or app or something and start today. Totally worth it.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #18 on: July 22, 2017, 08:37:29 AM »
Have you tried meditation?
I haven't. I think I'll check out my local library tomorrow for some books on meditation. An ex-coworker of mine mentioned Yin Yoga to me once. It's a style of yoga that's supposed to be more like meditation with a focus on breathing a holding poses for a longer period of time. Your question jarred my memory. Turns out there's a yoga studio in my town and they have a Yin Yoga class this Sunday. I might just give that a try as well.

I'm a huge fan of Yin Yoga over just regular meditation (though both are great) if you can.  The added physical stress multiplies the peaceful effect from my experience.  Afterwords, your mind feels calm, your energy is contained, and your muscles worked.

However, I've never been a fan of going to yoga studios.  I find it hard to let my mind go when I'm surrounded by so many people.  But that's personal preference obviously.  What's worked for me is to plop down alone in a room with a laptop or something, and queue up a youtube video on Yin Yoga (and other flavors).  Added bonus: it's free!

The first time I tried it, I was feeling in a rut like you.  I was frankly amazed at the feeling of pure serenity I felt for the rest of the day.  It far exceeded my expectations.

Mr. Green

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #19 on: July 22, 2017, 09:25:30 AM »
IMO, (this always works for me) read a book, maybe any book
Latest book I enjoyed  is  "The Rosie Project"
I read quite a few books recently. I can burn through a book in a day or so. I love to read but after too much it becomes negative for me because it begins to feel like something I'm doing just to pass the time, like I can't find anything better to do. Not sure if that makes any sense.
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Mr. Green

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #20 on: July 22, 2017, 09:30:42 AM »
Have you tried meditation?
I haven't. I think I'll check out my local library tomorrow for some books on meditation. An ex-coworker of mine mentioned Yin Yoga to me once. It's a style of yoga that's supposed to be more like meditation with a focus on breathing a holding poses for a longer period of time. Your question jarred my memory. Turns out there's a yoga studio in my town and they have a Yin Yoga class this Sunday. I might just give that a try as well.

I'm a huge fan of Yin Yoga over just regular meditation (though both are great) if you can.  The added physical stress multiplies the peaceful effect from my experience.  Afterwords, your mind feels calm, your energy is contained, and your muscles worked.

However, I've never been a fan of going to yoga studios.  I find it hard to let my mind go when I'm surrounded by so many people.  But that's personal preference obviously.  What's worked for me is to plop down alone in a room with a laptop or something, and queue up a youtube video on Yin Yoga (and other flavors).  Added bonus: it's free!

The first time I tried it, I was feeling in a rut like you.  I was frankly amazed at the feeling of pure serenity I felt for the rest of the day.  It far exceeded my expectations.
I watched a Yin Yoga video on YouTube yesterday. I was surprised at how familiar I was with most of the movements from various stretches after CrossFit workouts I used to do. I definitely thought it seemed simple enough that I could do it at home versus paying $20 for the class in my town. The studio does offer a first month of unlimited classes of various types of yoga for $40. That would probably be worth it.
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zinnie

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #21 on: July 22, 2017, 12:54:42 PM »
I'd love to be able to be happy just existing, in a healthy body.

I don't think that's how humans work. Solving interesting problems is important for our happiness. I'd imagine this is probably more true for engineers than the rest of the population.

I love meditation and agree with above posters about that to turn off anxious thoughts, but also agree with this response. Humans need challenge. Train for a physical feat, build something, do meaningful work for your community. Most people still need goals and purpose whether you are being paid for work or not. Overcoming challenges builds self-esteem and purpose. All of human history was about overcoming challenges, so the idea that we can be happy just existing doesn't seem quite right to me...

coconutindex

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #22 on: July 22, 2017, 01:19:36 PM »
IMO, (this always works for me) read a book, maybe any book
Latest book I enjoyed  is  "The Rosie Project"
I read quite a few books recently. I can burn through a book in a day or so. I love to read but after too much it becomes negative for me because it begins to feel like something I'm doing just to pass the time, like I can't find anything better to do. Not sure if that makes any sense.

Makes sense to me, I could have written this myself. Reading can be good but IMO should be books that challenge you. Often you just read the same genres/books about the same stuff and that doesn't really expand your mind. At least some reading should be like physical exercise: slightly uncomfortable because it's demanding, but feels good afterwards. Good novels could do this (For whom the bell tolls is my best example) or non-fiction (Like «Thinking fast and slow» by Kahnemann).

Meditation, haven't tried, but prayer could also be helpful if you're of the theistic persuasion like me. Also agree with the need for physical exertion and social contact. Balance is fundamental! When I have similar feelings I try to see if I've been missing out on either of these.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #23 on: July 23, 2017, 12:37:18 AM »
Well it took 9 months for not going to work to feel normal.

I have periods of projects for sure but I am nowhere near as intense about getting stuff done.. In fact I would say there are two or three day stretches where I really enjoy absolutely nothing.. well reading the business blogs and the MMM forums.

Before I know it the day is used up and its bed time.

It took me a while to give myself permission to do this and I can't say how I got there. But dammit I'm retired I can do ANYTHING or NOTHING.. its OK.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #24 on: July 23, 2017, 03:13:38 AM »
Make a garden. As big as you can. Plant things and watch them grow. You will always have work to do. You will always have something to look forward to. You will always have more to learn.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #25 on: July 23, 2017, 04:17:01 AM »
There appear to be two types of solution here - both of them work, and it depends on what you want to achieve.

On the one hand there is meditation and mindfulness. My library would have at least 50 books and audiobooks about this, including a lot of audio books that are guided practice. Since I've retired, I have borroed most of them. One day, I looked them all up, added them to my request list, and have been gradually getting them ever since. Some have been reborrowed several times. Most were not quite what I wanted. There are also numerous free apps on meditation. They have been good for me, and I feel that my brain has reset with their assistance.

On the other hand, there is the search for something to replace the satisfaction that work gave you - that turned the brain on, and lit up life. This is no bad thing, and we have all found some individual satisfaction in work that is useful continuing. With me, I first needed to articulate to myself what it was that I was looking for. I found that "What Color is Your Parachute in Retirement?" (the first book of this type that I came across) helped me to narrow down the type of stimulation that I was missing, and from there I worked out what things would give that to me. But, again, there are quite a few books in my library on retirement - although far fewer of them talk about the mind changes (most are just finance books), and quite a number of them have exercises that help you to do this. Again, I found some helped me more than others, and it was useful to go through them all to find the ones that struck a chord with me.

Another way I have used to get the stimulation I was missing was to look at my hobbies and work out exactly what parts of them gave me the outcomes that I missed from work.

Having said this, I searched for stimulation before I retired, because I felt it would be the biggest problem for me after I had retired. This meant that I had already started to do the things I had identified, and so I never had the problem.

Cassie

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #26 on: July 23, 2017, 05:42:46 PM »
My DH is an engineer and has this problem.

Mr. Green

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #27 on: July 23, 2017, 09:29:43 PM »
I've been making an effort to start keeping a diary/journal because I've had various ailments, both mental and physical, over the last year and once an issue has been resolved, I have difficulty remembering the details later and sometimes it's beneficial to have that information. I believe that my cerebral struggles are, for the most part, lesser degrees of this journal entry I wrote last night. At the moment I assume my issues stem from dealing with giving life meaning, but I'm still puzzling it out. I'm headed to the library tomorrow to check out some books on meditation.

"There continue to be many nights when I lay my head down to sleep and my exhaustion gives way to the image of dying in old age. I am terrified by the thought of dying and I can’t seem to put my finger on why. I don’t think I fear the process of dying, of no longer being alive, but the sudden entry of the thought in my mind consistently opens up this dark hole in the center of my being, some deep fear. I am so afraid that my body activates its fight or flight response. Adrenaline is produced and my exhaustion fades. My senses heighten dramatically, so much so that my wife closing a drawer in the bathroom vanity makes me jump. It feels like my heart rate increases, though I know that doesn’t actually happen. I tense up and my metabolism jumps, sometimes producing so much heat that I’ll start to sweat just lying there in bed. I inevitably have to get up and find something to distract myself to tear my mind away from the thought. Eventually I tire to the point that I fall asleep without thinking about death, usually in the early hours of the morning.

Why am I so afraid?"
« Last Edit: July 23, 2017, 09:31:29 PM by Mr. Green »
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FIREby35

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #28 on: July 24, 2017, 07:24:41 AM »
Mr. Green, I would highly suggest you continue to search for meditation resources. You have to be persistent and you will probably read many books but the peace and tranquility of mind that you are seeking does exist. The thing about meditation is you have to be extremely patient with yourself at the beginning when you mind is most active. There is a great proverb that compares your mind as a beginning meditator to a fish, just pulled out of water, flopping and struggling in the open air. You thoughts might even more exaggerated at the beginning.

The books on meditation range from super beginner to super advanced. Keep that in mind when you are looking for books. A beginner book might be good. If you get one and it seems "to basic" then look for something at your level. Headspace is a good entry point, I think.

Also, "prayer" and "meditation" are often interchangeable words. A lot of the resources on meditation and calming the mind are religious. But, I found that certain books spoke to me at different stages of the process of learning to meditate. So, you might start with some headspace and move to some buddhist, hindu, Christian books or whatever.

My point in all of the above is to have an open mind in the kind of resources that count as "meditation" and to search out the resources that work specifically for you. Also, patience. With and open mind, patience and persistence you will learn to calm your mind.

PS I also love gardening for dealing with a need for physical activity. I then listen to meditation and spiritual books while tending to my garden.

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #29 on: July 24, 2017, 07:58:13 AM »
As a fellow engineer, I can say that I am truly happy when I am building something. Find a project that you can sink your teeth into. It need not even be in your field. I am redoing my master bath, the design and selection is giving me a lot of satisfaction.

+1. As an engineer as well I too find it difficult to just shift my brain into relaxation and contentment mode if I have nothing to work/focus on. I have started building furniture as fun projects and to sell to folks. I've always got small projects going on the around the house. My kids have activities that keep me busy as well. I planted a small garden which I am enjoying and plan on expanding next year. And I have really focused on exercising more. All these things keep me plenty busy and happy.

I really truly enjoy being able to do all of these things pretty much at my own pace when otherwise I would be stressed trying to fit them all in while working full time. I don't think you truly have to shift your "brain off." Just focus more on things that you want to do and enjoy. 

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #30 on: July 24, 2017, 10:02:32 AM »
This doesn't directly address your question about your fear of death, but one thing I was wondering that I am not sure anyone else has raised yet is how much meaningful/supportive social interaction you are getting?  I think that is one of the hardest things about FIREing for many of us, even the introverts.  I definitely notice patterns with my moods -- if I haven't had a meaningful social interaction with anyone other than immediate family members for more than a few days, I start to get into a funk.  And it can become a vicious cycle, because the longer I am isolated, the more I sometimes feel like isolating myself, and the more funky I get, and the less initiative I have to see people, etc. etc.   I didn't really experience this when I was working because even on the worst days, pretty much every day I had some kind of rejuvenating social interaction.   But if I don't make a point of scheduling things and reaching out to others in FIRE, it is extremely easy to fall into a hole of isolation.  Which is, of course, compounded by the fact lots of people don't really "get" FIRE to begin with, so the circle of people you can connect with meaningfully is already reduced.

Some things that have helped me are having a regular walk scheduled with my sister and friends, a book group, volunteering at the food bank, an academic group at my old university that I still participate in, and just being more mindful about putting meet ups with friends on my calendar.   I find that 2-4 non-family social interactions a week seems to be a good rate for me-- more than that and I start feeling overscheduled, one interaction a week helps but isn't quite enough to keep me feeling my best.   

Re:  the anxiety attacks -- I had my first bout of them when I was 8 years old, after my grandfather (who I was very close to) died suddenly of a heart attack.  I think the loss of that important social support figure + a certain inability or unwillingness to confront grief in my family (my parents had lost their first child to brain cancer before I was born) left me feeling adrift.  I had insomnia and panic attacks for several months, until eventually I resolved it with an intense religious conversion experience.  Your situation is very different, but I do wonder if the loss of meaning-making through employment + a reduced social support network might be combining here to manifest in this way.

I'm sorry the journey into FIRE hasn't been more pleasant/uplifting for you.  I hope you are able to come through this without going back to work, but if not then don't be discouraged.  Good  mental health is important, and if work gives you that then there is nothing wrong with going back to work.  But I do think that meditation/mindfulness and a stronger social network might help to put you in a better spot.
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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #31 on: July 24, 2017, 10:15:21 AM »
I think I know what you're feeling, sorta like the never ending stream of consciousness that you can never turn off? The inability to be "in the moment?"

AlanStache

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #32 on: July 24, 2017, 12:09:28 PM »
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crazyworld

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #33 on: July 24, 2017, 01:27:00 PM »
I am studying Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine - holistic); while it is not a one size fits all modality (customized to the individual), try this for anxiety:

1. abhyanga (you can google this - banyan botanicals is a good resource) - self massage, from head to toe - use warmed, organic sesame oil - available at whole foods etc.  Not the toasted sesame in asian cooking.  No need to use large amounts.  Use an old towel/clothes, since they may get oil on them & wash separately. Can do this each day, before shower.
2. walks in nature
3. when exercising, do not exert to the point where you have to breathe through your mouth; also try a few minutes of alternate-nostril breathing each day (google this also)
4. meditate for a few minutes each day - can do this after abhyanga, before showering; try yoga nidra (type of meditation)
5. media fast for a few days;
6. restorative yoga

Give all of this a few days/weeks - calming down the brain takes time

zoltani

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #34 on: July 24, 2017, 02:07:31 PM »
Have you tried meditation?
I haven't. I think I'll check out my local library tomorrow for some books on meditation. An ex-coworker of mine mentioned Yin Yoga to me once. It's a style of yoga that's supposed to be more like meditation with a focus on breathing a holding poses for a longer period of time. Your question jarred my memory. Turns out there's a yoga studio in my town and they have a Yin Yoga class this Sunday. I might just give that a try as well.

Check out this video, The Art of Meditation, by Alan Watts
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TjCZRutOKY
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Mr. Green

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #35 on: July 24, 2017, 03:30:29 PM »
Mr. Green, I would highly suggest you continue to search for meditation resources. You have to be persistent and you will probably read many books but the peace and tranquility of mind that you are seeking does exist. The thing about meditation is you have to be extremely patient with yourself at the beginning when you mind is most active. There is a great proverb that compares your mind as a beginning meditator to a fish, just pulled out of water, flopping and struggling in the open air. You thoughts might even more exaggerated at the beginning.

The books on meditation range from super beginner to super advanced. Keep that in mind when you are looking for books. A beginner book might be good. If you get one and it seems "to basic" then look for something at your level. Headspace is a good entry point, I think.

Also, "prayer" and "meditation" are often interchangeable words. A lot of the resources on meditation and calming the mind are religious. But, I found that certain books spoke to me at different stages of the process of learning to meditate. So, you might start with some headspace and move to some buddhist, hindu, Christian books or whatever.

My point in all of the above is to have an open mind in the kind of resources that count as "meditation" and to search out the resources that work specifically for you. Also, patience. With and open mind, patience and persistence you will learn to calm your mind.

PS I also love gardening for dealing with a need for physical activity. I then listen to meditation and spiritual books while tending to my garden.
The good thing is, as an engineer, I'm all about finding a solution to the problem, even if it's an unexpected or odd solution. Earlier this year when I was seeing a therapist for anxiety, she recommended Tapping, which seemed kinda hokey but I found that it helped break those attacks. Tapping actually looked similar to meditation to me in the way it forces you to focus on something specific and by speaking during the process, your body tunes out other distractions, creating a fairly peaceful effect. It didn't solve any problems but it stopped the runaway train.

I picked up a couple books on meditation and mindfulness at the library today. I also picked up a book by Chris Guillebeau called the "The Happiness of Pursuit."

I think I know what you're feeling, sorta like the never ending stream of consciousness that you can never turn off? The inability to be "in the moment?"
It's definitely a stream of consciousness type of thing but oddly enough it only ever happens at night as I'm trying to go to sleep. I have no problem being in the moment during the day. I've even had some fairly full days before where I still struggle with this "darkness" at night. It's like there's some subconscious threshold in my mind for what qualifies as a task worthy of spending my life doing and sometimes just being busy isn't enough to keep the thoughts at bay. It's certainly irrational to fear dying of old age and regretting not having spent my life on something I believe to be worthwhile when I'm only 33 and have decades to change that. I think maybe the thought starts there and then transforms into this thought that if I died right now I wouldn't have done anything truly meaningful with my life, which is another irrational thought because if I died right now it would matter any more. I understand that at the logical level but the brain is a powerful thing, not persuaded by logic at times.

This doesn't directly address your question about your fear of death, but one thing I was wondering that I am not sure anyone else has raised yet is how much meaningful/supportive social interaction you are getting?  I think that is one of the hardest things about FIREing for many of us, even the introverts.  I definitely notice patterns with my moods -- if I haven't had a meaningful social interaction with anyone other than immediate family members for more than a few days, I start to get into a funk.  And it can become a vicious cycle, because the longer I am isolated, the more I sometimes feel like isolating myself, and the more funky I get, and the less initiative I have to see people, etc. etc.   I didn't really experience this when I was working because even on the worst days, pretty much every day I had some kind of rejuvenating social interaction.   But if I don't make a point of scheduling things and reaching out to others in FIRE, it is extremely easy to fall into a hole of isolation.  Which is, of course, compounded by the fact lots of people don't really "get" FIRE to begin with, so the circle of people you can connect with meaningfully is already reduced.

Some things that have helped me are having a regular walk scheduled with my sister and friends, a book group, volunteering at the food bank, an academic group at my old university that I still participate in, and just being more mindful about putting meet ups with friends on my calendar.   I find that 2-4 non-family social interactions a week seems to be a good rate for me-- more than that and I start feeling overscheduled, one interaction a week helps but isn't quite enough to keep me feeling my best.   

Re:  the anxiety attacks -- I had my first bout of them when I was 8 years old, after my grandfather (who I was very close to) died suddenly of a heart attack.  I think the loss of that important social support figure + a certain inability or unwillingness to confront grief in my family (my parents had lost their first child to brain cancer before I was born) left me feeling adrift.  I had insomnia and panic attacks for several months, until eventually I resolved it with an intense religious conversion experience.  Your situation is very different, but I do wonder if the loss of meaning-making through employment + a reduced social support network might be combining here to manifest in this way.

I'm sorry the journey into FIRE hasn't been more pleasant/uplifting for you.  I hope you are able to come through this without going back to work, but if not then don't be discouraged.  Good  mental health is important, and if work gives you that then there is nothing wrong with going back to work.  But I do think that meditation/mindfulness and a stronger social network might help to put you in a better spot.
My FIRE situation is definitely not optimal, in that there are some avenues to try and get past my struggles that are closed to me right now. We're back and forth between two states, which has prohibited any attempts at an activity that is longer than two weeks. Gardening, a class, a part-time job, etc. All of those things are impossible at the moment though I expect we'll be somewhere permanently in another 3-4 weeks so that will open up some options I don't have right now.

I've been big on physical activity in the past, which can tire me to where I don't struggle with these thoughts at night. Unfortunately I have two challenges at the moment (knee, back) that have really been putting a damper on things. Thankfully I have a rower, and I'm going to attempt to make up for the weight lifting I can't do with non-impact exercise.

I think I definitely need a better social setting, and I'm hoping to work on that as well. I very much enjoy interacting with people, just not always the best at initiating it as an introvert.

I'm hoping the journal will help me see over time what is and isn't helping and allow me to make more informed choices about alternatives to try when things aren't working.

I guess in general there's just a whole lot of experimentation going on right now, and that can feel a lot like being lost some times. If anything, I'm probably a phenomenal example of why it's important to have some non-job identity/hobby/interests going before pulling the rip cord on the parachute. Thankfully, I feel like I've taken a lot of these hurdles pretty well and I'm really trying to work through them as best I can. I refuse to stay downtrodden because every day is another one I'll never get back.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2017, 03:36:10 PM by Mr. Green »
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deborah

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #36 on: July 24, 2017, 03:38:50 PM »
In Australia there are a number of walking groups supervised by the heart foundation (they advertise where and when each is and what level of walking they do). You can join a group for one walk or forever, and they are completely free. Doesn't the US have a similar scheme?

Mr. Green

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #37 on: July 24, 2017, 08:15:31 PM »
In Australia there are a number of walking groups supervised by the heart foundation (they advertise where and when each is and what level of walking they do). You can join a group for one walk or forever, and they are completely free. Doesn't the US have a similar scheme?
I haven't heard of anything organized by official organizations. There are a couple meetup.com groups near where I live. I should probably look into those more than I have.
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tonydomon

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #38 on: July 24, 2017, 10:19:09 PM »
I am an engineer, and I tend to think too much or over analyze things also.  One thing that helps me is getting out of the house, go hiking in the park. Instead of thinking about things, I try to feel things when I hike. Feel my feet hitting the uneven ground, feel my calves tighten up when walking up hills, see the flowers, hear the birds chirping, and so forth.  Just be patient with yourself. It took me like two years to decompress from my last job.  Good luck

aperture

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #39 on: July 24, 2017, 10:34:02 PM »
I am same as you - I can go unaware of the dark insides until I snap at my wife on the outside.  All my life I have been an NT personality type (worth looking into this if you are not familiar) and have needed to know/understand etc while others could just get on with the party. 

+++ for meditation.

You may also want to try in no particular order flotation/isolation tank, a retreat with significant introspective time, buddhist readings, focus on compassion to people that irritate you.  Best wishes, ap.
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FIREby35

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #40 on: July 25, 2017, 07:09:27 AM »
BTW, Mr. Green if you start down the meditation path then I'd be interested to hear what books you read, what you think of them and what your challenges are when you are beginning. I (or we) here on this thread might be able to point you in the right direction for the next book or activity to deepen your practice. Sometimes it might feel like "oversharing" by letting people in on your mental narrative. But, if you want to share then we might be able to help.


infromsea

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #41 on: July 25, 2017, 07:20:22 AM »
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mr. Green. I'm dealing with a similar in-ability to shut things off at times, mostly due to a reduced work schedule and loss of identify as I prepare to "move on" from a 24 year military career. My issue is that I might still hold a part time job but I'm healthy and capable of almost any work (other than doctor/lawyer etc) and I get wrapped up in thinking about "I could do that job and this job and this on here... what to do...".

I will say that there have been lots of good ideas here and I'm going to take some of them and use them (have been meditating for over a year and do lots of physical exercise already) but this response from lhamo really hit home for me:

how much meaningful/supportive social interaction you are getting?

I found that, like other stated, if I insulate myself too much, it leads to more isolation. So, I joined my local veteran's orgs and I'm active. I put things on my google calendar and I MAKE myself go to them (future activities always seem great in the abstract but as they get closer I find reasons to skip them...). I've found that just washing dishes at a friday night cooking session and interacting with my fellow retires "filled my tank" for a week after that, since I don't get a lot of face-to-face on a day in and day out basis (which I'm fine with, heavy introvert).

Also, you mention reading and how it can become a "chore". I've found the same, some times it seems like I'm reading just to "pass the day" and what's the value in that? Just read books to pass the day away to get another day closer to eternal sleep (don't believe in the afterlife here...). My cure to that, take a walk to a local coffee shop/library/park and get a cheap cup of joe or a seat where there is plenty of background noise to keep me feeling "plugged in" to humanity. I'll combine those walks with picking up a few groceries if need be or, if the mood hits me, having a few craft beers and then walking home in a glorious day buzz (I only do this sparingly). I find this increases my enjoyment of reading, I get the exercise of the walk, some human interaction and maybe a cheap cup of joe or really nice craft beer, pretty much all of my favorite "things" in life (I value wife/family more than things of course).

Lastly, have you read much from the world of stoics? I read something from that realm each day and it helps me stay grounded, stay frugal, and stay connected to my purpose while giving me the courage to not fear death. We didn't exist for billions of years before we were born and we won't exist for billions more after we are gone, that concept gives me a strange peace.

Looking forward to the continued conversation!

DTaggart

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #42 on: July 25, 2017, 08:03:18 AM »
It's definitely a stream of consciousness type of thing but oddly enough it only ever happens at night as I'm trying to go to sleep.

I found a good hack for this! I often have a terrible time falling asleep - no matter how exhausted I feel, some nights as soon as lie down to go to sleep my brain is like "Yay!! Let's start obsessing over every little negative thing that's ever happened to you in your entire life!" I read of this technique somewhere and found its actually pretty helpful to stop those kind of ruminatory thoughts:

Pick a random word, preferably  one without a lot of repeating letters. We'll use MUSTACHE for this example. Take the first letter "M", and start thinking of every word you can that starts with that letter. Money, mate, maladaptive... just keep going. When you run out of words, go on to the second letter, "U", and start going again. I rarely make it to the second letter before I'm asleep. It gives your brain something neutral to fixate on - it's interesting enough that I can stay focused on it, but boring/unemotional enough that it doesn't get me wound up like my "normal" thoughts do.

onewayfamily

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #43 on: July 25, 2017, 11:07:41 AM »
It's definitely a stream of consciousness type of thing but oddly enough it only ever happens at night as I'm trying to go to sleep.

I found a good hack for this! I often have a terrible time falling asleep - no matter how exhausted I feel, some nights as soon as lie down to go to sleep my brain is like "Yay!! Let's start obsessing over every little negative thing that's ever happened to you in your entire life!" I read of this technique somewhere and found its actually pretty helpful to stop those kind of ruminatory thoughts:

Pick a random word, preferably  one without a lot of repeating letters. We'll use MUSTACHE for this example. Take the first letter "M", and start thinking of every word you can that starts with that letter. Money, mate, maladaptive... just keep going. When you run out of words, go on to the second letter, "U", and start going again. I rarely make it to the second letter before I'm asleep. It gives your brain something neutral to fixate on - it's interesting enough that I can stay focused on it, but boring/unemotional enough that it doesn't get me wound up like my "normal" thoughts do.

This happens to me sometimes - thanks for the tip, I'll be trying it out tonight probably :-)
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If you'd like to keep track of where we're at - check out our photos @ Instagram or our lame attempt at a blog at onewayfamily.com

chops

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #44 on: July 25, 2017, 03:54:46 PM »
MMM recommends Raptitude.com to learn about meditation and mindfulness, and like many of MMM's recommendations, it is the real deal.

The creator of Raptitude.com, David, has an online meditation class that he gives ~2x/year, called Camp Calm.  I took it and highly recommend it.  I now meditate once a day for about 30 mins, something I never would have thought possible before.  It has paid significant dividends to counter anxiety and promote mindfulness.  I would also recommend pairing meditation with hard physical workouts for even better results.  I am probably less anxious using both of these tools than I have been over the rest of my life, and I have a 18 month old and another on the way.

Check it out and good luck!

 - Chops

BigHaus89

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #45 on: July 25, 2017, 04:43:48 PM »
Another +1 for mediation. I have been using the Headspace app daily for ~6 months now and it has changed everything.

Accidental Miser

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #46 on: July 25, 2017, 06:02:15 PM »
because I'm no longer focused on anything that is meaningful to me.

You answered your own question in your post.  You have to focus on something that is meaningful to you.  If that was work, maybe you should go back and do a little of that.

Mr. Green

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #47 on: July 25, 2017, 07:47:05 PM »
Lastly, have you read much from the world of stoics? I read something from that realm each day and it helps me stay grounded, stay frugal, and stay connected to my purpose while giving me the courage to not fear death. We didn't exist for billions of years before we were born and we won't exist for billions more after we are gone, that concept gives me a strange peace.
I have not read anything even approaching philosophy since college. I suppose I'm not really all that certain of what I believe with respect to the ultimate end game. I guess my thoughts about needing to do something meaningful with my life imply that I don't believe it will simply continue in some fashion that retains my identity and cognitive function after I die. I will try to look into stoicism. Picking up a lot of reading material lately!

BTW, Mr. Green if you start down the meditation path then I'd be interested to hear what books you read, what you think of them and what your challenges are when you are beginning. I (or we) here on this thread might be able to point you in the right direction for the next book or activity to deepen your practice. Sometimes it might feel like "oversharing" by letting people in on your mental narrative. But, if you want to share then we might be able to help.
I've started reading "Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation" by Sharon Salzberg. It's a 4 week guide that gets a beginner started with meditation. There were a couple others I wanted to pick up but they were checked out so I borrowed related books, like one on Fear. I downloaded the Headspace app as well. I haven't used it yet so I'm not sure if I can use Headspace while reading through this meditation book or if they won't jive well. My initial take away from my first meditation session is that I don't tend to have a ton of unconscious stream of consciousness thoughts. However, I noticed I can focus on my breathing in meditation and still have a picture stuck in my mind. When I noticed that I tried to visualize the air going through my nose so that the picture was focused on the breathing as well. It's a learning process so I imagine this will change as I progress.

You answered your own question in your post.  You have to focus on something that is meaningful to you.  If that was work, maybe you should go back and do a little of that.
I suppose you are correct to some extent. At the moment I have no hobbies beyond hiking and reading. While hiking is meaningful to me, it doesn't cut the mustard as something that brings meaning to my life. At the moment I don't really know what is meaningful to me beyond the obvious (wife, family, friendships). Ideally I'd like to be able to be happy in my core without feeling compelled to "work" on something.

« Last Edit: July 25, 2017, 07:48:42 PM by Mr. Green »
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lhamo

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #48 on: July 25, 2017, 08:04:38 PM »
Have you tried podcasts?   I find them to be a really good way to stay mentally stimulated while being less isolating than reading.   

Tim Ferris is a big fan of the stoics, and interviews interesting "world class performers" in a variety of fields.  He was a bit too dude bro-ish when he first started, but has matured a lot in the last couple of years.

If you don't find his constant interruptions and self promotion annoying, James Altucher also interviews interesting people.

Malcolm Gladwell's newish podcast Revisionist History is also very though provoking.

Others I really enjoy:

Hidden Brain
Freakonomics
Planet Money
Happier
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gerardc

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Re: Struggling to turn the brain off
« Reply #49 on: July 25, 2017, 09:12:29 PM »
Uhh... I don't know about all those self-help books. I'd stay as far as possible from self-help if I were you, or fighting depression. Overthinking your depression is the last thing you want. Do long walks, exercise, social meetups, your own projects if you want challenge, etc. Self-help books will just bring you down, you don't want to have anyone "teach you" stuff, make up your own path.