Time Out for a Time In
Stressed out? Probably. It is a reality that most of us face. Some people say financial concerns cause stress. Others say their stress comes from a family situation. For many, their job is the primary cause of stress. Whether you have too many things to do and not enough time to do them, or don’t take good care of yourself, or you are navigating a difficult relationship at home or at work, the source of stress is different for each of us.
Though stressors are different, the effects of stress are what we might have in common. Stress, sometimes called the silent killer, has been blamed for all kinds of chronic conditions: high blood pressure, depression, reduced immunity, insomnia, and anxiety to name a few.
Give your nervous system a break from this emergency we call life, and enjoy a few moments throughout the day. Being proactive and keeping stress at bay during your work day can help you be healthier, enhance your self-awareness, and increase your productivity. The following practices of mindfulness can help you to create calmness, access more creativity, and be more resilient.
- Start Your Day with an Intention: When you get up, or when you arrive at work, decide what you want to experience more of or what you‘d like to focus on. Set an intention for the day. You could even stick a post-it to your computer to remind you of it. Maybe you want to cultivate more kindness, efficiency, wisdom, inspiration, creativity, or awareness. You’ll always find what you are looking for, so it’s important to be more intentional with your attention.
- Be Here Now: Your life is taking place right now. This moment, like all present moments, is when you have access to creativity, inspiration, possibilities, your inner wisdom, your emotions, and connection to others. Though it can be a mental habit to worry about the future or ruminate about something that happened, you can free yourself from that. One way to do that is to anchor your attention in the present moment by paying attention to each one of your senses. Try it now. Listen to the sounds in your environment. Notice what you are feeling physically. Notice the light and colors around you. Notice any aromas. Notice if there is a taste in your mouth. By bringing your attention to your senses, your focus can shift back to the present moment just enough to relieve stress, and get you back on track.
- Reconnect with Your Body. Get in the habit of asking yourself, How do I feel right now? Tune in to the sensations of your body and breath (without judgement) at least three times a day. You can do it now. Give yourself three long, slow, deep breaths. Next, relax your body, whether sitting or standing. Feel your feet on the floor. Notice your weight and balance; relax your arms and hands. Straighten your spine. Relax your shoulders. Relax your face, your eyes, your jaw, your forehead. This helps to slow down the reactivity center of the brain and allows you to get relief from stress. Pay attention to your body and breath at least three times a day.
- Make Ordinary Actions Mindful: Are you mindful, or mindless? Do you feel present and engaged? Or reactive and uninspired? When you practice being mindful you can be freed from habitual responses and being on “autopilot.” Here’s how: Choose a cue to remind you to be mindful. It could be when your phone rings, or when you first get into your car, or when you begin a meeting, or when you fill your water bottle. Use the cue to be remind yourself to tune in, relax, and be present. Mindfulness is when you are completely engaged in what you are doing while you are doing it without judgment. Mindfulness reduces stress, increases self-awareness, and expands your awareness so you can make better choices moment by moment.
- Mindful Refreshment: You can practice being present with a regular activity such as eating a meal or drinking a beverage. Here’s an example: It begins when you pick up the bottle or glass. Notice the way the light reflects on it. Notice how the container feels in your hand, its weight, texture, temperature. Take a sip and swallow. Notice the temperature and flavor (if there is one). Become aware of the sensations on your lips, in your mouth, and down your throat as you drink and swallow. Don’t judge or label your experience, simply engage in it. These mindful moments will refreshment will help you to savor your life.
- Ring in the moment: Do you grab the phone as soon as it rings? Instead, when your phone rings, remind yourself that you have a choice. You can pick up the phone, let it go to voice mail, or let it ring one extra time so you can take a deep breath. The phone ringing can also be a reminder to change your state. You can shift your gaze from your computer screen to something else such as the view outside the window, or a photo of your loved one. Or, it can remind you to take a moment to relax. It can also be a cue to reflect on your intention for the day. You can change your stressful reactivity pattern. You are not Pavlov’s dog, instead, you have a choice.
- Slow it Down: Practice monotasking. Do one thing at a time. This gives your brain a break from the stress. Every once in a while practice performing an ordinary task more slowly whether you are driving, walking, reading, eating, talking, listening, or drinking. You might find at first slowing down drives you a bit crazy, especially if your habit is to rush through your tasks. But when you find yourself in a hurry, ask yourself, What is all the rush about? You might find you’re simply in a bad habit: you are being mindless when you could be mindful. Slow down to savor this life of yours.
- Approach People, Places & Experiences with a Beginner’s Mind. Don’t be a know-it-all. Instead, be present with what is actually happening instead of your ideas about it. Maintain a childlike curiosity. For example, go for a walk (without talking on your cell phone) and resist the urge to label or categorize anything. Notice the actual colors, textures, shapes, temperature, sounds, aromas, space, light, shadows, movement and stillness as each sweetly meets your senses. Simply experience, rather than label, this world around you. This works not only on a walk, but when you meet someone, whether you know them or not. With an open mind, wisdom, inspiration, and support are found everywhere.
- Use Your Inner Compass: When faced with a choice, pay attention to how you feel, notice the sensations in your body. Do you have a gut feeling? Go with it. Is your whole body saying now, but you ignore it? Don’t. Do you want to say something but you have all kinds of reasons why you don’t? Say it. Express yourself and live with integrity. (Speak your truth with kindness.) There is no need to manipulate yourself to please someone else. Ask yourself, “Is it a yes or a no, or a yum or a yuck?” Move toward the yums and away from the yucks. Relinquish your need for approval from others. You are the wise one. You usually do know best. Trust yourself.
- Take a Time out for a Time In: Get your power back and “re-source” your energy. Practice mindfulness meditation. Here’s how: Sit down comfortably, close your eyes, relax your body, and as you gently breathe through your nose, focus on the natural sensations of your breath as it moves in and out. Don’t try to clear your mind, don’t worry if you have a load of thoughts. However, when you notice you are distracted, refocus your attention on the breath again, as often as you need to. This refocusing is what trains your attention. Be kind to yourself while you do it. Welcome everything, and let go of expectations. Don’t wait for something magical to happen, instead, just do it. When the time is up, return to activity slowly. Even if you don’t think anything happened, it has. You’ll have released stress, relaxed your body, and you’ll be more energized. It’s suggested to sit in meditation for 20 minutes each day. You can do it all at one time, or in two periods of 10 minutes each. This is one of the best stress relievers (along with getting plenty of sleep, and being outside in nature.)