Many of us live fast-paced lives. We juggle work, family and other time commitments, which can be difficult as well as stressful. When we are constantly on the move, burnout often follows and can affect our relationships, the quality of our work and our general well-being.
Laurie Seidel, a Carilion Clinic Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine nurse educator, said that high stress can take a toll on a person and interfere with their ability to think clearly. The good news? Seidel also said that mindfulness can be an effective tool to prevent stress and burnout.
According to Seidel high stress can take a toll on our health and constant hurrying can lead to burnout. With mindfulness practice, however, we can learn to observe our physical, cognitive and emotional reactions to stress and adopt healthy choices to reduce our stress.
“We teach mindfulness skills that can be used right in the course of a busy day, to help us be more focused, to experience more clarity in our thinking and to improve our health and well-being,” said Seidel. “We also learn formal mindfulness skills, like mindfulness meditation. The goal is not to quiet the mind; the mind will wander. Rather, we become aware of thoughts as they arise and acknowledge them without judgment, then gently let go and return our focus to the feeling of the breath.”
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully aware of what is happening in the present moment without judgment and with a sense of curiosity. In other words, intentionally paying attention to whatever you are doing, rather than being lost in thought about something that has already happened (rehashing) or something that will occur in the future (rehearsing or worrying).
According to the practice of mindfulness, being present matters because life only happens in the present moment.
An example that Seidel often cites is driving a car and, upon arriving to your destination, realizing that you had zoned out and do not remember the driving itself. As opposed to unconscious thinking, Seidel suggests that you take ownership of those few minutes in the car by being fully aware of your body, what you see and what you hear, doing your best to stay present for the entire drive.
“Feel your hands on the steering wheel, your body in the seat, the seat belt across your chest, your foot on the pedal,” said Seidel. “Take note of what you see as you drive and notice that you are listening to the sounds that you hear. The intention of mindfulness is to build awareness of how our minds and bodies react to things and situations happening around us.”
Mindfulness can allow us to listen better, to make decisions with greater clarity and provide better care for one another. As with most other things, practice is key for mindfulness.
“It’s a lot like learning to play the piano or learning any new skill,” said Seidel. “If you practice once a month, you won’t see much in the way of results; if you practice regularly, you will.”
When a busy day seems overwhelming, Seidel explains that pausing to consciously take three deep breaths in and out allows you to slow down for a moment, essentially anchoring yourself to the present moment.
“And when you notice you are stressed, another mindful moment can be to simply pause, breathe naturally and check-in by observing your experience," said Seidel. "What thoughts are going through your mind? What are you feeling? What physical sensations are present? Spend a few moments checking in. Knowing that you are directly contributing to your health and well-being, you can move forward with a lighter step.”
In sum, mindfulness gives power back to the individual by allowing one to take ownership of his or her own time, ultimately improving quality of life.
Best said by Seidel, “Taking ownership of your present moments–moments that would otherwise rush by and be forgotten–is a powerful thing.”