By Danielle Stewart, Psy.D., LP, Psychologist at United Family Medicine
When is the last time you did something you truly enjoy? When is that last time you felt focused and grounded rather than going through the motions of your day? When is the last time you did something that made you feel like yourself? Most people when asked such questions will pause and say they have lost themselves in work, family, or other stressors that come with the daily grind of life. They speak of having no time for themselves but can rattle off numerous tasks and supportive activities they are doing for others. This year, I would like to challenge you not only to take time for yourself, but to reconnect and get acquainted with the person you may have lost over the past year.
The first steps are simple: slow down and tune in. Mindfulness is a great way to get there. Let’s try it. Rather than quickly skimming through the rest of this article, take three deep (belly) breathes (in and out; in and out). Notice the rise of your chest, how your belly fills like a balloon, the chill of air rushing into your nose and warmth of the air rushing out, the sound of inhales and exhales filling your ears. One more, now (in and out).
Now, I’m guessing you didn’t reach Nirvana or any enlightenment in those three breaths, but you are probably more focused on the words in front of you and more aware of any feelings in your body (good or bad). If either is the case, you are well on your way!
Mindfulness is a simple practice that boils down to doing everyday tasks with intention and purpose. Notice I said practice, which means it is a skill that gets better with repetition. Most of us need help with this. Again, slow down and tune in, with all of the senses. For example, eat a meal and take longer than 10 minutes to finish it. Notice the smells and colors set before you. Tune in to the textures, temperature, and levels of flavor. You might be surprised by how many things you are eating without really tasting. This is also a great exercise to do while preparing a meal and working with your hands. Speaking of your hands, how about doing the dishes? Yes, even this can be a relaxing endeavor. Fill the sink with warm soapy water and slowly wash each dish while your hands are immersed. Notice the warmth of the water and the slickness of the soap, the feel of the dishcloth in your hand. Listen in for the sloshing sounds the water makes as you gently scrub each dish, along with the trickle of the water from the dishcloth as you wring it out. How a cup feels in your hand when dry versus wet. And since we are talking about water, one more great way to practice mindfulness is in the shower. This may be the only place you can find some quiet time to yourself.
Helping professionals will always tell you to take time to relax, but rarely have suggestions on how to do this. It can feel like one more thing added to the list of ongoing responsibilities you are already managing, which is why many people dismiss the idea. So, try not get wrapped up in the stress of creating elaborate plans for the ultimate getaway or wracking your brain for the best day to take off from work that won’t create more stress when you return to the job site. Instead, slow down and tune. It is through this practice that we are able to be fully present in each moment rather than scattered and disconnected. Notice (with intention and purpose) the sounds, smells, tastes and textures that come with aspects of your day-to-day routine. In doing so, you can elevate your day from mundane to mindful.
If you would like to learn more about mindful practice, come visit us at United Family Medicine. All of our psychotherapists are well versed in this method of stress reduction and are happy to help you on your journey toward living a more full and balanced life.