Avoiding ‘burnout’ Part 2: Mindfulness in 20 minutes a day
Mindfulness made easy
“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”
So the saying goes. It may sound good, but is being busy really a good thing? Yes, we may be able to achieve a lot in our day, but how do we feel at the end of it? Will being busy leave us fulfilled and at peace? Or stressed-out and depleted?
In this, my second blog on how to be healthy and avoid `burnout’, I look, with the help of Naturopath and Mindfulness Coach Will Houghton, at how slowing down and being `mindful’ each day, can not only make you healthier long-term, but potentially more effective in your daily life.
Damaging Effects of Stress
In a life without mindfulness, more than excessive alcohol or poor diet, stress is the single most harmful thing for your body. Being too busy in body and mind goes hand-in-hand with feelings of stress. It is OK to live with this intermittently, but it should not be your daily state. We were built to handle acute stress, which is short-lived, but not long-term or chronic stress. This is when your body doesn’t have a chance to relax between periods of tension, to re-balance your hormones, and remains in a perpetually heightened state, with Cortisol and Adrenalin coursing through you. All kinds of symptoms can follow: IBS, anxiety, depression, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, to name a few.
All these things are warning signs, telling you something is wrong. Ignore them and they could lead to worse, more chronic conditions. But rather than reach for the pills to sort them out – which they seldom do! – relief could be found by just making simple changes in your approach to life.
De-clutter your mind
Slowing down doesn’t have to mean opting out; just taking a pause now and then. In a modern life, complete with countless technology, we are ever-accountable, ever-contactable and forever trying to cram more into the same hours of the day. But this doesn’t necessarily make us more content or effective. Living without mindfulness becomes our default state.
Slowing down, un-cluttering your mind, taking time out of the `hamster-wheel’ of life, could mean not only better results for your health, but also for your output at work and at home. A clear, relaxed mind is fresher, more open to inspiration and more ready to take on the right challenges.
Living fully aware
`Mindfulness’ is somewhat of a buzz word nowadays and has many incarnations, but at its core, it is simply about living fully aware, in the present moment; about separating `you’ from your mind, so that you can be aware of your thoughts and how your body is reacting to them. The mind is like a child. It is easily bored and wants constant stimulation and entertainment. It will dart from one thought to the next, propelling you from one thing to the next, and into a state of stress – if you let it.
Taking a break and just looking inward, benignly at your thoughts, is like pressing the reset button on your computer. It gives you the chance to become aware of your habits, patterns and where your `ego’ is leading you. In the world of Buddhism, if you are not aware of these things you are called `unconscious’ or asleep.
So, take time out right now and read the tips below to see if you can benefit from injecting a little `mindfulness’ and relaxation into your very busy life.
11 tips for easy mindfulness
1. Take 3 minute breathing spaces
- Sit in a quiet place and close your eyes. Ask yourself “What thoughts are going through my mind? What feelings are here? What body sensations are here?”
- Direct your attention to the breath moving in and out of your body for a minute. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring your focus back to your breath.
- Expand your awareness to take in your body as a whole. If you feel any sensations of discomfort or tension, imagine your breath moving into them and soothing them.
If you benefit from this, then increase your practice to a session of 30-40 minutes a day.
2. Be “mindful” in the morning
- Make a point of slowing down and focusing on things you usually hurry in the morning, such as breakfast, showering or commuting. Research shows that people who do this experience less negativity through the day.
- Try starting the day with a `mindful’ shower – when showering, rather than planning your day, still your mind by noticing the sensations, smells and sounds around you.
3. Tackle one thing at a time
Juggling even simple tasks like emailing and texting lower your IQ. Switching between several tasks makes you less productive and more prone to stress, frustration and pressure. A quick antidote is to slow down on purpose – when you are in a hurry, ask yourself, “what is all the rush about?”
4. Be “time affluent”
Many people suffer from “time anxiety”, a feeling that life is running out and that time is passing too quickly. People, however, who feel `time affluent’ calve out time for themselves every day, no matter how busy they are. Studies show that spending as little as 15 minutes on something we choose to do, rather than what we need to be done, can redress the balance. Simple things like a walk in the park, sauna, meditation or just a lie down can help reduce time anxiety.
5. ‘Unplug’ whenever possible
- Have a technology-free day. No TV, phone, radio, iPad or laptop. This not only clears the mind, but the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from devices can cause stress on the body.
- Turn off your notifications for emails and social media at weekends and in the evening. Give yourself a complete break.
- Try not turning on the TV or radio when you get up, or in the car. Silence is good for your health; it helps you think more clearly, get a better perspective and reduces stress. Constant low level noise has a subtle yet insidious effect on your nervous system and health, and can create anxiety and nervousness.
Mindfulness tip number 7: get lost in a book
6. Laugh more.
Levels of stress hormones are reduced by 70% when you laugh. So watch a comedy, read a funny book, or hang out with someone who makes you laugh, all of this can be great for your overall well being.
7. Get lost in a book
Research has shown that reading a novel for six minutes can reduce stress levels by more than two thirds. It’s thought that escaping into an imaginary world releases tension. Whether on the commute or in bed before sleep, this is a great way to unwind.
8. DIY Reflexology
Giving the toes and soles of your feet a rub, can help de-stress you at the end of a long day. Reflexology works on the basis that different points on the feet correspond to different areas of the body, and massaging them can help relieve tension or congestion in the relative part of the body. Physical toxins, and mental and emotional energy held in the body’s tissues can therefore be cleared. It all works to restore health to the entire being, so when you have spare 20 minutes give both feet a rub.
9. Count your blessings
If you are caught in a cycle of worry and negativity, ask yourself “What is going right in my life? What should I be grateful for?” It’s an instant way to gain perspective.
10. Do gentle Yoga
Light Yoga is very calming because it boosts levels of the brain chemical GABA, which acts as a natural anti-depressant. Let go of all your body tension as you breath in and out of every posture. Avoid too intense Yoga as this can be too much for a tired body.
11. Give yourself a hug
When you are feeling low or stressed wrap your arms around yourself. According to research, the brain cannot tell that the kindness isn’t from another person. It reacts in the same way, by releasing the hormone Oxytocin, which reduces the level of Cortisol, otherwise known as the `stress hormone.’
With positive action, starting to look after yourself in mind and body, through diet, stress reduction and relaxation, you can ensure you get healthy and stay that way.
If you want to learn more, some great books to read are: The Pow