As busy people, our days are filled with multi-tasking as we tackle our careers, manage our homes, raise our children, and enjoy extracurricular activities (ours, and our kids). Much of the time, we have a tablet or smartphone in hand to switch between scheduling, planning, researching, documenting, and communicating.
We can do it all! Kind of….
Recent research suggests that multi-tasking is actually counterproductive and meaningfully raises our stress levels. We already know that excessive stress is bad for our body and our emotional well-being. So, in spite of our best intentions to be productive, manage schedules and be available to our loved ones, we are actually creating our own negative health impact, which is not good for us or those who count on us.
So how do we change our mindset and undo the effects of our busy lives (without adding to our to-do list)? Look to the practice of Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your full and undivided attention to one thing or activity that is happening in a specific time frame. Sound overly simple? Not when your brain is a multi-tasking machine that never shuts off. Your brain is always busy. Think about how it constantly responds to everything around you - preparing a meal while checking smart phone messages and half listening as your kids are trying to speak to you. The laptop and smartphone mean that not only is work nothing more than a tap away, social media and the internet are endlessly begging for our attention; our brains are on overload.
Mindfulness is a discipline that we bring to bear on our lives which helps quiet all that — gives your brain a bit of a time-out. To try it, turn your focus away from the world around you and notice how your own body and mind are reacting. Just notice, but don’t judge and don’t direct. No negative self-talk, no problem-solving, no multi-tasking. It can help to focus on your breathing (it’s automatic, rhythmic, and let’s face it — your brain wants to focus on something!). Concentrate on the sound and feeling of breath going in and then slowly going out. When your brain wanders off, gently lead it back to your breathing. Just listen. Try it for a few minutes at a time; even just one minute to begin with and gradually increase the time as you get used to it.
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to positively impact brain function, creativity, and mental health. It has even been shown to decrease the risk of heart attack or stroke, blood pressure, chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD, and even cancer treatment has been proven to benefit from mindfulness.
But what about your day-to-day, overall well-being? Mindfulness makes it easier to appreciate the things around you every day, to engage in the present, and to control your reactions. With practice, you’ll build a greater awareness of yourself, train your brain to focus on the present, and gain a different perspective on the world around you. You’ll also find it easier to deal with issues, as you’ll be able to focus on an issue without racing off on tangents of worry.
You don’t need to schedule mindfulness or use any special equipment to practice. You are all you need. Take a few moments for mindfulness before you start your day, or on your lunch break. Or take advantage of the time you spend sitting in waiting rooms, or in your parked car waiting to pick up your kids from activities. You can also practice mindful eating, turning off all distractions and just focusing on the taste, smells, and whole experience of your meal. With your brain fully focused on eating a meal, you’ll enjoy the flavours, textures and aromas. If you do have more time to set aside for mindfulness meditation, find a quiet place where you can sit comfortable and upright, relax your eyes, and focus on your breathing.
Five minutes or twenty, alone in the quiet or sitting in a waiting room, the more you practice mindfulness the more you’ll benefit.