Here are some ways you might consider to help you switch gears, so that you can enter into your prayer time a little more effectively.
(1) Take a walk.
When I’m wound up about something, walking can help me unwind a little.(2) Take a shower.
A good shower often helps me clear my head. I even come out singing show tunes sometimes!(3) Play a game - one that you can do by yourself.
Choose a game that you are good at, but don’t generally feel a driving need to win. Remember, this is mostly about helping yourself switch gears. I have lately found that playing with a Spirograph I got for Christmas can be helpful to me in mentally settling down. (Yes, I asked for the Spirograph. Yes, I got my husband toys for Christmas, too. ^.^; )(4) Spend a few minutes journaling.
Journals are a great way to help you let go of your stress. I know that there are times when I just need to process something, and writing is a great way to do that, especially when its a topic that Daniel is a little worn out of listening to me talk about. Nothing like writing it down to help you realize how silly the things you’re mad about really are.(5) Listen to some music to change your mood.
I like Pandora. It was a huge help to me during Advent. I left the music going, and gradually, I turned my regular stations off, and my Religious and/or Christmas stations on as the weeks went by and Christmas approached. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to set up a couple of faith-centered stations, and gradually turn off the others throughout the evening until it gets close to prayer time.(6) Do some spiritual(ish) reading.
The idea is to shift your focus from things of this world to things above. It ideally isn’t anything terribly challenging, just enough to remind you of the presence of God.
Recommendations: Mere Christianity, Secret of the Rosary, The Five Love Languages for Kids, Raising God-first Kids in a Me-first World, or try reading some of the pope’s recent talks on the Vatican Information Service e-mails. (I say this about Pope Francis; this will vary with the speaking style of any particular pope.)
(7) Do some theology study.
I know, I know, this sounds an awful lot of the previous suggestion. If you’ve ever spent any time reading theology (as opposed to other kinds of spiritual reading) you can testify that it is not the same. Theology is often very difficult to read. The sentences can be long, can be difficult to understand, and might even require diagramming (especially if the writer was not a native speaker of English). Spiritual reading gently nudges you away from your worldly thoughts. Theology bulldozes you away from them. You can’t focus on anything else and make headway at reading your theology.(8) (women only - sorry, guys) Consider wearing a chapel veil or other head covering during your prayer time.
Recommendations: Redemptoris Mater, Summa Theologica, Any of the Vatican II documents.
I know, chapel veils are a little off the beaten path, right? I used to think so, too. There's like one other lady in my parish who wears a headcovering at mass.(9) Begin with a litany or other memorized prayer.
I haven’t been wearing a chapel veil very long. I only started wearing them for mass in the last 6 months or so. I’ll probably do a full post on my reasons for starting at a later time, but among my reasons was to help me focus, and to keep me focused on God while I’m there.
I have noticed a difference. My toddler is still a toddler, so I still get my attention suddenly wrested away from mass every week, but I have found that I refocus more quickly than I used to - it serves me as a reminder of what I’m there to do.
For those who are not used to veiling, it’s not necessary to wear a designated “chapel veil” or “mantilla.” You can use any scarf, doily, hat, or even a towel that happens to be convenient. Plus, as an added bonus, you won’t have anything to feel self-conscious about (like you might think you do at mass).
And pray it out loud! If possible, choose ones that you don’t know super well, but can mostly get through by just glancing down at a printout. If you pick one that you’re too familiar with, you can put yourself on “auto pilot”, and you’ll finish just as wound up as you were when you started.(10) Keep practicing until you find something that works best for you.
We all struggle with distractions. When you find yourself fixating on something that made you angry during the day, apologize to the Lord for being distracted, ask for his help, and try to move on.…and it’s occurring to me that many of my suggestions are the very same things that some people do to get ready for bed, so try not to fall asleep, if you do a bunch of them in succession!
Do you have any tricks that help you switch gears for your prayer time?