Many would describe our culture as fast-paced, competitive, or goal-driven. Whether its completing school assignments, reaching work deadlines, fulfilling our personal goals and responsibilities, or simply keeping up with the latest trends, our minds often work overtime thinking about the next move. While thinking about the future is important for survival (after all, we’d starve if we didn’t think about what to eat!), it can take a toll on our wellbeing. A state of mind that is always thinking about the future can cause us to feel stressed, anxious, restless, dissatisfied, or exhausted. Similarly, some of us may also have one foot in the past. We may analyze our past actions, regret decisions, or re-experience painful memories. While thinking about that past can be useful at times, too much may contribute to sadness, shame, anxiety, or low self-esteem. In reality, the past no longer exists, while the future has yet to exist. The only true moment we have is in the present.
Mindfulness is our ability to bring awareness to our experiences of the present moment without placing judgement. It takes us off autopilot to develop greater self-awareness and reclaim control over our experience. Regular practice has been demonstrated to decrease anxiety, depression, irritability, and stress, while improving self-management, emotion regulation, and even boost the immune system!
An impression may be that mindfulness practice is an unrealistic fit for demanding schedules and responsibilities. Future and past orientations are often necessary for survival and growth. Similarly, we may not feel we have the space or time to engage in something like meditation. The great thing about mindfulness is that it can be practiced in increments and while on the go!
Here are some tips for being mindful in a fast-paced mind-full culture:
Check in With Yourself: Part of the work is setting the intention to check in throughout the day. Ask yourself, what emotion is strongest? What are your physical sensations? What are you mainly thinking about? Try to identify if these experiences are rooted in the past, the present, or the future. Check-ins allow us to recognize influences we are typically unaware of, and adjust accordingly.
Catch and Release: Mindfulness does not have to be about leaving the mind blank. Rather, it is acknowledging each thought, feeling, and experience, as it comes, and then releasing it to experience the next coming information. There are many visualizations that can help with catching and releasing your mind’s content. Try sending them down a river on a leaf, or placing them in a bubble to float away. You can also create some breathing room by prefacing your content with “I am having the thought/emotion/sensation that…”. For example, if you have the thought “I am worthless”, change it to “I am having the thought that I am worthless”. How does that feel?
Engage Your Bodily Senses: While our minds can drift away, our body is always grounded in the present. As such, the body is the most accessible tool we can use in mindfulness. Exploring our bodies in addition to our minds allows for a more accurate intake of experience. During daily activities or chores, go through each of your five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Any moment can be enjoyed for its senses no matter how mundane. If you’re doing laundry, pay special attention to the heat and textures of the fabrics, the fresh smell of detergent, and the varying colors of clothing. Walking, showering, and cooking, are all great opportunities to enjoy your senses.
Learn the Language of Your Breath: Our breath is the only bodily function that can be switched from automatic to voluntarily controlled. Observe your breath for insight into your current state. Is your breathing deep, shallow, rapid, slow? Slow, deep diaphragmatic (belly) breathing can ground you back to a relaxed and mindful state. It can be done at home, on the commute, and in the office. Try giving yourself the gift of ten deep breaths a couple times a day!
Practicing mindfulness is just like exercising a muscle. You can’t expect to lift heavy weights at the gym right away. Similarly, staying present for a period of time may be difficult. Practicing your skills will help you develop mindfulness as a natural and enjoyable part of your day! Good Luck!
Written by Victoria Sabo, PITC Therapist. Learn More about Victoria.