What are you doing right now? Besides just reading this of course. In our fast paced society, we all have too much to do and too little time. I’d bet that as you’re reading this, you might be having your morning cup of coffee, watching the news, or are you running through your to-do list for the day? It is undeniable that multi-tasking has its place in our lives, but have you really considered the full impact that it has on you?
Research into multi-tasking has shown that it can raise your overall stress level and lower your effectiveness. This mindlessness can lead to problems with attention, lack of awareness, automatic thoughts and unhealthy behavior patterns. While there are times that we must juggle returning a phone call while feeding the little one, living your life this way can get incredibly overwhelming. Many times that we do this, we aren’t bringing our full attention and awareness to all that we are actually doing, feeling and thinking at the moment. Being unaware of what we are experiencing in the present moment impacts our self-awareness. Self-awareness helps us understand why we are feeling the way we feel and helps us move towards learning how to improve our wellbeing. Not only is our self-awareness impacted by mindlessness, so is our efficiency and effectiveness.
Improving your awareness can be achieved through mindfulness. Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist philosophy and is a state of consciousness that is grounded in the present moment. In daily life, it is a skill that can be honed and practiced to increase one’s awareness of the present moment and has been shown to improve self-awareness and emotional wellbeing. It is not only about doing one thing at a time, it is about being aware of what is going on right now and letting go of judgment. If you are reading this, but your mind is ruminating over what was said during your morning work meeting and beating yourself up over the impression you left on your coworkers, bring your attention to what you are doing right now and acknowledge the impact that it is having on you.
Because we know that mindlessness can lead to feeling overwhelmed, high stress levels, anxiety, chronic problems with attention and ineffectiveness as well as an overall low sense of well-being, practicing mindfulness in your daily life can improve not just your awareness, but also has been effective in treating anxiety, depression, low motivation, chronic problems with regulating emotion and psychosomatic symptoms such as muscle tension, migraines and sleep disturbance. A recent study done by Brown and Ryan, 2003, at The University of Rochester showed that more mindfulness is linked to being more “in tune” with your emotional experience in the present moment, leading to the ability to alter your present emotional state and fulfill your emotional needs. For example, as I am typing I am practicing mindfulness and recognize that I just can’t get my mind off of a disagreement I had with my husband earlier. For the hundredth time, we had to discuss and debate the importance of him separating the recycling from the garbage. Is it silly? Yes, but it is something that definitely impacts my stress level and in my life; these little disagreements lead to distraction. As I notice this, I can choose to alter my stressed state and I do, by refocusing on writing and letting go of those thoughts. I could’ve also chosen to step away from it for a moment to use relaxation or focus on another stimulus until I felt more in control of my mind.
Take another example: Kurt, a young, successful, professional man in his 30’s with a family comes to me for help managing his mood. He explains over the course of several sessions that he is constantly irritable and that it has begun to take a toll on his relationships and his health, causing conflicts with his wife and near constant muscle tension and sleep disturbance. As his therapist, I can clearly hear the pain he is in, but when I ask him to explore and explain what could be triggering his symptoms, Kurt is at a loss. Questions like “How does your body feel at night when you are trying to go to sleep?” and “What situations or issues trigger your irritability and frustration?” get nowhere initially with Kurt as both he and I begin to realize that his self-awareness is low. I begin to explain mindfulness with Kurt and encourage him to practice in and out of therapy sessions. Kurt began to realize how issues at work and being a father and husband were impacting his stress level and emotional wellbeing. Through this improved self-awareness, Kurt was able to address how he needed to take care of himself, problem-solve and let go of problems beyond his control. Kurt’s emotional wellbeing greatly improved.
Through daily practice in mindfulness and some honesty about what works for you and what doesn’t, you can improve your emotional wellbeing. Start with working five minutes a day of practice into your daily routine. During those five minutes, choose something to focus on whether that be the feeling of your breath moving through your nose and throat as you breathe slowly and deeply or an activity such as a maze. During your mindfulness practice, acknowledge thoughts, distractions and judgments that you are making. After you have acknowledged them, refocus your attention to your practicing. Continue to do this for that time, bring your attention back to what you are focusing on. After you become accustomed to the five minutes, increase the amount of time that you practice until you can work up to a more significant period of time, say, twenty to thirty minutes. You will notice the impact that this practice has on your life as in your daily life you begin to catch yourself ruminating over worry thoughts or tensing your body, which leads to muscle tension. Your improved ability to be present in the moment will have a profound impact on your emotional wellbeing.
There are many psychotherapies that incorporate mindfulness into their teachings. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are evidenced-based treatments that can treat depression and anxiety. Mindfulness can also be incorporated into your therapy even if you don’t go to an MBCT, ACT or DBT trained therapist, as long as the therapist is trained in the technique. Seeking help and learning how to incorporate mindfulness into your life can be great first steps towards improving your overall wellbeing.
To begin a stress management program using mindfulness skills training, contact Mindful Springs Counseling:
www.mindfulsprings.com or (719)357-8957.