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Stressed? Tired of Making Decisions? Experts Share 4 Easy Ways to Give Your Brain a Break & Find Peace

Move over, meditation: “soft fascination” is the trick to soothing your mind, body and spirit

Between chasing deadlines at work and juggling a million responsibilities at home, you have a lot on your plate — and you would give anything for a sliver of serenity. Thankfully, research shows you can rest your mind and increase your energy in mere minutes with “soft fascination,” a form of reflection that engages your senses without overly taxing your attention. Read on to learn all about soft fascination and how it may be your secret to stress-free!

What is soft fascination?

“Soft fascination gives your brain a break,” says psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Do. She explains that our “attention muscles” are overworked by everything life throws at us, from the constant distraction of our cellphones to the hustle and bustle of daily life. Unlike “hard fascination,” which entails concentrating intently on a stimulating point of interest, its softer counterpart allows our eye to land on the little things we tend to overlook. That could mean a crocus peeking out of the snow or a cloud gradually morphing into a new shape. Says Morin, “Whether you’re gazing at nature or watching a candle flame flicker, soft fascination takes away the pressure of feeling like you have to pay attention or make decisions or produce anything.”

Related: 8 Proven Ways to Unleash the Power of Hopefulness and Spark More Joy

How to practice soft fascination

The idea of letting your mind roam “off-leash” without trying to rein it in is key to the relaxing benefits of this mental timeout, adds psychotherapist F. Diane Barth, LCSW, author of I Know How You Feel. “When I’m watching birds perch on my feeder, I sometimes find myself saying, ‘I should know their songs by now.’ I start trying to pick them out, but I have to remind myself that this straining to be an ‘expert’ actually causes anxiety. It’s the opposite of soft fascination, which is about giving yourself a break without trying to ‘master’ a topic.” Here, four simple ways to reap the benefits of this joy-boosting technique.

Related: Experts Share 4 Proven Ways to Embrace Your Authentic Self and Unleash Joy

1. Spark soft fascination with a candle meditation

Candles burning
Jonas Olbrich / 500px / Getty

Which should I wear today? What should I make for dinner? Should I take the highway or backroads? “The demands of daily life often lead to a deceptive stressor: decision fatigue,” says Morin. She explains that soft fascination is the antidote to the pressure of having to make choice after choice, because it allows our mind to take a breather.

To feel calm almost instantly, consider lighting a candle and admiring its dancing light. “Just the sight of a flickering candle signals to our brain that we’re ‘safe,’ immediately reducing tension,” explains Morin. The almost hypnotic rhythm of the flame also soothes our mind with what she calls “soft surprise,” as the subtle, unpredictable movement of the fire engages our mind without straining it. Indeed, studies show a simple “candle meditation” reduces mental fatigue, sharpens working memory and melts anxiety.

2. Spark soft fascination by gazing at nature

starry night sky; soft fascination
Kaye Marie Christofferson / 500px/Getty Images

Like awe — which helps us feel more connected to others — soft fascination helps alleviate loneliness by evoking a comforting sense of spirituality. From admiring a bright red cardinal perched on your bird feeder to looking up at the stars on a clear night, savoring nature is shown to curb isolation. That’s especially true in the winter when we tend to hunker down and socialize less.

“Just looking out your window helps increase energy levels and soothe mental fatigue,” says Barth. One way to tap the benefits of soft fascination is to enjoy the mystery of nature, without a goal or plan, she says. That may mean birdwatching without challenging yourself to know the name of each feathered visitor. Or perhaps it’s taking a walk on a mild winter day without a specific destination or step count in mind. Any way you do it, letting your focus wander will help you feel more connected to the larger world and to your loved ones.

Related: Watching Birds Is Study-Proven To Dramatically Lower Stress Hormone Levels

3. Spark soft fascination with ‘leafy mindfulness’

Woman watering houseplants
Elena Zaretskaya / Getty

As you close your eyes after a long day, instead of counting sheep, you take an inventory of your worries. When dread of the future threatens your joy in the moment, ground yourself in the now. One of the benefits of soft fascination is that it’s inspired by small moments of reflection. There’s no need to devote hours to meditation or elaborate self-care rituals.

Indeed, just tending to a houseplant fosters this relaxed state of mind and triggers the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin. “I have clients who find a great sense of peace in planting and repotting their houseplants, even watering them and setting them up in their apartments,” reveals Barth. She notes that simply sitting quietly with a plant pal, particularly in the dead of winter, is often enough to boost joy. In fact, a study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology showed that tending to a houseplant evokes a sense of nurturance — caring for a living thing — that dials down depression and increases wellbeing.

4. Spark soft fascination with your playlist

iphone with headphones and music icon on screen; soft fascination
Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

What was your favorite song when you were a carefree teen? The answer might spark an auditory form of soft fascination by encouraging introspection. Indeed, a study in Frontiers in Psychology shows that music not only lifts our spirits, it also makes us feel more self-aware, bolstering our sense of identity. And listening to our favorite “oldies” is especially rewarding because it evokes nostalgia. “Music is so soothing to the brain, helping us disengage from stress and feel more hopeful about the future,” confirms Barth. Boost the “fascinating” benefits by putting your tunes on random shuffle! The “surprise songs” and will boost your mood, because the brain gets an extra dose of feel-good chemicals when it can’t predict what’s coming next.

For more remedies for stress, keep reading:

Study: Breathing In Orange Essential Oil Lowers Cortisol Levels By 84% — and So Counters Both Stress & Carb Cravings

Hugs Have Been Study-Proven To Boost Immunity & Dramatically Lower Stress But Only If They Last *This* Long

Tough Day? A Dramatic Sigh Could Be the Stress Reliever You’re Looking For

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