Finding My Head Space as a UX Professional

It’s easy in the user experience (UX) industry to get overwhelmed. Overworked. Over-stressed.

On any given day as a content strategist, I’m wrangling stakeholders to get feedback that moves my project forward. I’m in meetings with my cross-collaborative team of rock stars, trying to deliver a better product that solves a client’s needs. And maybe I’m just trying to get a foothold on a new skill, approach, or deliverable I’ve not done before.

By the end of the week, I’m a bit out of steam. And sometimes, I’m a bit out of steam by the end of the day.

That’s why in 2020, I’ve been focusing on finding pockets of mindfulness in my day and week where I can give myself some grace and space to breathe.

Counting your spoons

My therapist (whom I adore!) calls the process of running out of steam the “Spoon Theory.” It was founded in 2003 by Christine Miserandino, a woman with lupus who used spoons to describe the energy certain things take in her day while living with a chronic condition.

Spoon theory works like this:

  • Everyone starts with a certain number of spoons a day, from sunrise to bedtime. This can be any amount, but most use 15–20 spoons depending on the condition(s)
  • Certain activities take more spoons, like exercise, going to work, large social events, etc.
  • As you identify the spoons you have left throughout the day, you may choose to decline to participate in certain functions or be unable to do so if your body is fatigued, or your mental space is depleted
Source: https://www.sruk.co.uk/scleroderma/scleroderma-and-your-body/spoon-theory/

The spoon theory has been adapted in many forms over the years, most often used by patients with chronic conditions but finding a home with people who have anxiety and depression, like me. Where exercise might deplete spoons for someone with a chronic physical condition, it helps me save my spoons because it’s valuable time for my brain to take a break.

I’m an introvert/extrovert — about a 50/50 split. And some days, my introvert side is more in power, so functioning in many meetings, conferences, client calls, etc. might take away more spoons than usual. Needless to say, it’s easy to run out of only 12 spoons, regardless of your condition or current health. That’s where head space comes in.

Finding your space

Meditation works for people all over the world. Comedians, actors, and actresses have used meditation — particularly transcendental meditation — for decades. Several apps have been developed in recent years to target meditation of the mind, such as Insight Timer (my personal favorite) and Headspace, a subscription-based meditation trainer (also a favorite).

But before you sit down, cross your legs, and close your eyes, you’ll want to find your space — metaphorically and physically — where you can devote mindfulness practice. You might consider:

  • Time of day — Such as when you wake up or when you’re going to sleep. Maybe you have a quiet time over the lunch hour to find some space, and that’s OK, too!
  • Length of time — Maybe you need 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 45 minutes to really give yourself that space to relax. If you’ve never meditated before, a few minutes is a good place to start. Just be sure to be uninterrupted if you can.
  • Location — Whether at work or home, in your car, or in a park. You can find space to quiet your mind wherever you’d like, so long as you feel safe and secure where you choose.
  • Method — Maybe you’ll use an app to get started, or maybe you’ll watch a YouTube video. Maybe you’ll attend a class at a community center. Maybe you’ll check out a yoga studio. No matter how you start, celebrate that you started.

Even if you want to lie down somewhere comfortable with your favorite music playing through your headphones — that’s okay! Whatever unwinds you and gets your brain away from whatever is clogging it is considered meditating.

Music of any kind — from chanting monks to 90s radio pop — can be your mental escape. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Quieting your mind isn’t only meditation

If there’s one thing I’ve learned these past few months of practice, it’s that quieting your mind isn’t exclusive to meditation. While yes, I do enjoy meditating — especially right before bedtime when I can focus on relaxing my body for a good night’s sleep — it’s not the only way I get that centered space in my life.

  • Start with your hobbies!
    For the past few months, I’ve been digging into my backlog of books, crocheting, or just zoning out to some stand-up comedy. It’s a great way to ease the pressure, thoughts, and ideas in my head for a bit.
  • Let those emotions out!
    Occasionally I give myself time to cry. If I’m angry or bitter, I try some kickboxing. Sometimes I just want to be… alone. I’ll take a warm, quiet bath, go for a walk on my lunch break from the office, or just leave the room. It’s okay to be your own best friend when you need it.
  • Move your body!
    Exercise doesn’t have the same effect on me as it has on many. Some people need to hit the gym and put in 110% to feel like they did something with their emotions. Not me. Even a walk or a gentle visit to the elliptical can help. My focus — regardless of method — is the minute in front of me.
  • Do what feels good at the moment!
    While we should all take good care of our bodies, there’s also something to be said to listening to our bodies. Does your body need a piece of chocolate? Are you exhausted and ready for a nap? Is there a movie that you know will cheer you up and help you get outside of your head?
There is literally zero things wrong with just powering down for a nap. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Eat it. Do it. Watch it. There’s no reason to hold things from yourself if you know it’s what you need. The key is not going into excess over any of it. Take a couple of pieces of chocolate, but avoid the 1,000 calorie sundae. Give yourself a nap, but set an alarm for 20 minutes so you don’t throw off your bedtime routine. Watch that movie, but avoid streaming endlessly and losing track of other things you need to do.

The benefits extend beyond the present

While mindfulness teaches you to focus on the present — not the past, and not tomorrow — I find that making sure I have the space to practice my hobbies, move my body, listen to music, or meditate does make for a better tomorrow, and sometimes can clear up blocks I’ve experienced in my projects recently.

After a particular stretch of being good to myself, I find that my UX skills are sharper. I’m more in-tune with what’s on my board for the week. I’m more organized and ready to tackle overlapping projects. I’m emotionally honed and ready to have conversations to overcome hurdles in my way.

No matter what benefits you’re seeking, try to give yourself some grace this year. Treat yourself — your body and your mind — as you would a friend. And what would you say to a friend who’s overworked and exhausted?

“Take a break, it’s okay. You need it.”

And so do you.

Content strategist & writer @Lullabot. I love great UX and content, from books to blogs. Also: Bookworm, kayaker, crocheter, cat-mom. https://bit.ly/3gyyusv

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