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You can be in flow one day and out the next. While I was getting my PhD, I was working full time while running a business and having a dysfunctional marriage. I had committed to doing everything I set out to do without considering the impact of the pressure on my life.
But one day I noticed that I was not focused and not interested in completing my work. I sat at the computer for a while, but nothing came. I couldn’t produce. Does this sound familiar? If so, you have experienced a mental block.
Related: 7 Unexpected Ways to Get Around Mental Blocks
Spotting the Signs
I was in the middle of my doctoral program with tons of papers to write, but I was stuck. It took days. While that was the first time I’d experienced a mental block, it wasn’t the last.
I realized that I was prone to mental blocks when I engaged in long periods of mental stimulation, prolonged stress and in a very creative period. Here are some signs to watch out for in yourself:
- Feeling frustrated and overwhelmed
- Trying to push through to finish a task but feeling stuck
- Difficulty completing tasks that required thinking, strategizing, or creating
- Problems producing something of high quality
- Find it difficult to describe how you feel and what you experience
One of the hardest things about experiencing a mental block is that it cannot be seen, making it difficult to identify. Furthermore, a mental block can happen to anyone, varies in length and can occur at the most inopportune moment. They can range from acute to severe.
Related: 7 Mental Blocks Preventing Your Success
Several factors can contribute to mental blocks. Some of them include:
- Mental exhaustion: As in my case, I was overloading my brain muscles all day and night by constantly engaging in creative activities. I experienced mental fatigue from excessive decision making. My life was structured in such a way that all decisions had to go through me and could not be delegated to anyone else. My brain was exhausted.
- Lack of sleep: With 24 hours in a day, there were eight for my full-time job, six for my business, two for commuting, and three for cooking, bathing, and spending time with my family and friends. This schedule gave me an average of five hours a day to sleep. The recommended amount of sleep per day is six to eight hours. I didn’t give my brain enough time to rest to function properly.
- Disorganization in the environment: Your workspace should reflect the clarity you want while working. When my environment is in disarray, I have the most trouble concentrating on a task. When I got my PhD, I was in a dysfunctional marriage. My ex-husband was verbally abusive and battled a drug addiction. He often threw attacks and destroyed the apartment. On days when I came home, things were all over the floor and out of place. I’d have to get out of the house to think straight. This was one of the factors that contributed to my being as busy and away from home as possible.
- cheater syndrome: I doubted my experience and abilities at the highest level while completing my PhD. It felt like I was in an in-between space where I had years of professional experience, but I didn’t feel like an expert in my field. This led me to question my abilities and hesitate before writing a paper. I wanted everything I submitted to be perfect and I was afraid of judgment. So instead of creating, I’d get stuck validating myself.
Related: 6 Powerful Ways to Get Out of a Mental Breakdown
Overcoming a mental block
Once you can identify the cause of your mental blocks, that’s half the battle. The next half consists of taking some actions to help overcome it so that you can achieve your goals. Here are a few things to try:
- Increase your physical activity: This is my go-to anecdote. We are full of energy and mental blocks are created when that energy stagnates. Regular exercise can prevent and remove blockages. Physically, exercise pumps blood to the brain, which can help us think more clearly.
- Grab a coloring book and start coloring: Coloring is relaxing and allows you to get your creative juices flowing without using a lot of brain power. It can help relax your brain and body to improve brain functioning. When coloring, different parts of the cerebral hemispheres of our brain are activated.
- plan your sleep: Putting your sleep on your schedule can help regulate the amount you get. By sleeping more, your brain has time to relax.
- Meditate daily: Meditation is a powerful tool that can help us get rid of distractions and negative thoughts. It helps us get in touch with our subconscious mind and let go of the thoughts that hold us back. It also brings peace within us, which helps us to gain clarity in any situation.
- Play in to music: Music can serve as a form of therapy to help us process emotions and act as a sedative. Listening to music also has incredibly positive effects on our brains.
The most important thing to remember when you’re stuck is that moving away from what you’re working on is always an option. Take the time to relax and shift your focus. After all, continuing to work will only frustrate you, which never helps. Instead, take the time to try some of the suggestions above.