In the last 7 years, I have increasingly experienced the power of living in the present versus the clutter of thoughts of what's ahead or behind me. As an ambitious, enthusiastic, to-do list maker and planner, I am continually battling "being" versus "doing." Often times, "doing" is fueled by my enthusiasm to "live every moment to its fullest" and "take advantage of every opportunity," ideas that are widely encouraged around us. But blindly following my enthusiasm usually drives me down a road called "Overcommitment" to the place I've come to know as "Stress City." Have you taken that journey? It's frequently traveled but I don't recommend it.
I'm not alone. We live in a society that is increasingly fast-paced, task-oriented (and multi-tasked at that), focused on immediate gratification, with no shortage of information clamoring for our attention. Are we really any better, any healthier, for it? And are we really accomplishing more or simply raising expectations and consequently, stress? In a 15-minute span, we can have half a conversation with our significant other, buy that great Groupon deal, mindlessly put something in our mouth to eat, update Facebook, answer our child's question, add to our "to do" list, pin something on Pinterest, and check the weather, all while sitting down to "relax." Sound more like distracted and stressed?
While many people consider multi-tasking a talent, neuroscience shows that when we do so, cortisol, "the stress hormone," is released. While our bodies are designed to bounce back from occasional cortisol rushes, there isn't sufficient opportunity for the relaxation response to activate when our stress response is chronically triggered. Chronic or high levels of cortisol can lead to health problems including heart disease, digestive issues, anxiety, depression, weight gain, and sleep disturbances.
Should we disconnect from commitments, technology, and society? No, but we can challenge ourselves to increase the number of moments we are mindfully participating in. Right now: are you aware of your posture, any sensations in your body? Tension? Notice your breathing: is it quick, slow, shallow, deep, relaxing, energizing? What are your senses noticing- sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste? Are you focusing solely on these words or are you distracted by some other thought or task?
Mindfulness is living with attention on the present moment without judgment. We often don't realize just how distracted from the present we are until we begin to practice mindfulness:
1. Diaphragmatic breathing. Place one hand on your diaphragm and the other on your chest. Inhale slowly into your diaphragm and notice which hand rises more. Notice how your body feels as you inhale and exhale.
2. Focus on one task with your full attention. It's OK to do only one thing at a time!
3. Practice truly experiencing a moment. Notice what you are doing, your surroundings, your senses, and your emotions in any given moment. When you find yourself distracted by a thought, notice it and bring your attention back to the present moment. You may need to do this repeatedly.
Living more mindfully takes practice and considerable reminding, hence the three words that I am re-introducing as my internal mantra: "Be here now". I invite you to join me. If we're continually planning and focusing on the next thing, we've missed the moment we're in. I don't want to lose those moments. How about you?
Dawn Schatz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, certified Domestic Violence Specialist, Gestalt Therapist and founder of Appoquinimink Counseling Services, LLC in Middletown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 898-1616.