It’s another day at work, and you get one of those emails.
You know… one of those emails.
Maybe the email is from a coworker, or from one of your bosses. Either way, it’s the email that you get about once per day, and it makes your blood boil. The thing they’re emailing about is last on your list of things to do, but the email is still enough to keep you in a constant state of stress and anxiety.
The WEIRD (Western-Educated-Industrialized-Rich-Democratic) culture that we live in continues to demand more and more of us. Living in this fast paced world can be extremely damaging to our health, and can leave us feeling disconnected from the earth and from each other. Stress has been shown to lead to significant health and relationship issues.
What would it be like to live a life free of chronic stress, fatigue, and energy depletion? How could I live a life fully connected to earth and focused on the moment?
It may sound like something you can never attain. This may be true; however, there are a few simple habits that can be integrated into your daily life fairly easily which have been shown to have a dramatic impact on stress and anxiety.
The techniques that I am about to explain are rooted in a practice called Mindfulness. This term may seem like the new “hip” buzzword, but it is rooted in an ancient tradition of practicing intentional living. I’ll start by explaining what Mindfulness is NOT.
Mindfulness is not a method of escape. Unlike other meditative techniques which may attempt to clear your mind completely and escape life, Mindfulness is an active process of becoming more aware of yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness stresses (no pun intended) the importance of the moment.
Because all we have are moments to live.
Since all we have are moments, Mindfulness allows us to more fully live them one by one. Here are a few helpful techniques to get you started (derived from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training):
1.) 3 Minute Mindful Breathing
Set your clock for 3 minutes. Sit in a chair with excellent posture. Close your eyes, and begin breathing in for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds, then slowly breathe out for 8 seconds.
In for 4, hold for 4, slowly breathe out for 8.
Continue this rhythm, and begin to notice your thoughts. You may have a thought that brings anxiety (maybe it’s the email you received earlier). In this case, instead of rejecting the thought, you are going to let it in. Let your mind experience the thought, and note the emotional experience that you encounter. It is important to not judge this. This is an intentional practice in non-judgment.
Let the thought in, notice how it makes you feel, and simply return to your breath.
Imagine this rhythm as if you’re driving down an empty highway early in the morning. Your thoughts are like the road signs that pass by. They come in, you experience their impact on your mind, and you return to the road. Continue for 3 minutes and when you’re done take note of your current state.
2.) Mindful Appreciation
Wherever you find yourself, begin to think about 5 things that you are appreciative of. Try to focus on things that typically go unnoticed, such as the electricity powering the air conditioning in your office, or the infrastructure which provides water to your faucet. Spend a few minutes intentionally practicing gratitude for 5 things that you may take for granted most of the time.
3.) Mindful Body Scan
Lie on your back and close your eyes. Begin Mindful Breathing (see technique #1). Once you find a good rhythm of breath, begin to imagine a scanner moving up through your body. The scanner starts at tips of your toes, and is monitoring how each square inch of your body feels. Begin to move this virtual scanner up through your left foot, passing your ankle, your shin, your knee, until you hit your pelvic bone. Next, jump down to the tip of your right foot, and begin to move up toward where you left off before.
Continue this scanning method all the way through your body until you reach the top of your brain- all the while noting how each square inch of your body feels. Notice if any areas feel particularly good or bad. Once you reach the top of your head, imagine a hole in the top of your head releasing the energy that the scanner has put into your body. Take note of your current state, and compare it to how you felt prior to doing the body scan.
Practice these 3 techniques once per day for a week, and observe whether you feel or think differently.
Are you interested in engaging in counseling to help you live more mindfully? Do you have questions? Contact Tim.
About the author: Tim Wilkins is the owner and therapist at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC. Tim’s counseling focus areas are anxiety, motivation, and identity issues. Tim is also an adjunct instructor at Jackson College where he teaches Intro to Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Intro to Counseling.