From Pacing to Pausing

by Elizabeth deGraw Renna

I’m not a physical pacer by nature or habit. But I think unconsciously I “pace” in a mental, or sometimes an emotional, way. Maybe a way to describe myself is as a “psychological pacer”.

When I think of the word “pace”, as a verb, I imagine someone walking back and forth repeatedly and perhaps fairly mindlessly or distractedly. The emotions involved might include anxiety, worry, nervousness, concern. Pacing seems to appear in stressful moments for some people. I wonder how aware people are when they are pacing? Is it an unconscious need to move for some, or many, people? Does physical pacing help some people think? Is it a way to release energy, stress, or tension in a beneficial way?

At the cemetery recently, after the committal service, I finally let go of the hold I had had on my emotions, an unconscious holding in that I hadn’t realized I’d been doing. And for a brief moment I had the perception of being outside of my own body, watching myself as if in silhouette, a black shadowy figure, seen from behind. And I realized that I was basically pacing, just a little, walking just a few steps away from the gathering of relatives and then back again. The words that come to mind that might describe that brief moment are “momentarily distraught”. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to talk to or what to say, for that brief moment. And then it was gone, done.

But it was interesting to have caught myself pacing, however briefly, and it made me wonder if it’s an unconscious action for people when it’s tied to upsetting emotions, linked to some kind of difficult situation.

My “psychological pacing” is definitely unconsciously done and includes habits, like playing with my pen or fiddling with my earrings. I name just a couple examples, leaving other (bad) habits anonymous and unidentified, to be known and recognized only by me! This mentally or emotionally based pacing is definitely linked to stress, of different types and degrees. I suppose my “stress eating” response could also fall in this category I’ve identified of “psychological pacing”. I find myself lost in thought, zoning out, with random thoughts moving through my mind but with a minimal awareness on my part… until I become aware that I’ve just been sitting there, doing nothing.

By definition, at least in my dictionary, the word “pace” has several meanings, several implications, none of them specifically referencing the anxiety-driven or nervousness-induced back and forth pacing that comes to mind when I first think of the word.

Pace, verb

– To walk or stride back and forth

– To measure by counting the number of steps needed to cover a distance

– To set or regulate the rate of speed for

– To train (a horse) in a particular way, especially the pace

Pace, noun

– A step made in walking

– The distance spanned by such a step

– A manner of walking or running

Examples that come to mind here: a jaunty pace; a plodding pace; a slow, methodical pace; at a snail’s pace; and one that I feel too familiar with: a hectic pace.

I’ve used the phrase “pace yourself” with someone I love… and I need to use it more often with myself!

The word “pacemaker” was just under the word pace in my dictionary.

– One who sets the pace in a race

– A leader in a field

– A part of the body, especially of the heart, that sets the pace or rhythm of physiological activity

– A surgically implanted electronic device used to regulate the heartbeat

I realize that I can be my own pacemaker. If, or preferably when, I become more mindful, in any moment, I can become more conscious of my current pace (and pacing behaviors) and I can make adjustments. I can slow things down by not trying to rush or by trying not to multitask, for example. I can move myself from unconscious psychological pacing to mindful pausing, two ends of a spectrum.

I would much rather become more conscious of my pacing behaviors, whether physical, mental or emotional, and find natural ways to re-set my internal and even external pace or rhythm, moving from pacing to pausing.