Bee-eep. Bee-eep. Bee-eep. Ugh. My mind, in a fog of sleepiness, slowly registers the jarring sound. My morning alarm.
It’s Monday. The infinitely long to-do list commences its familiar swirling through my slowly-waking brain. Time to bound out of bed and head straight into a full day of busyness. Like it or not, here we go….
Did your chest tighten in recognition while reading that? If so, you’re not alone. For many of us, much of our lives is spent sprinting on a self-created, stress-inducing hamster wheel. After a while, that stress can become a chronic state where we slip into persistent fight-or-flight mode, the body’s heightened response to perceived danger.
For many of us, much of our lives is spent sprinting on a self-created, stress-inducing hamster wheel.
But I’m not stressed! you might be thinking. The thing is, whether faced with a true threat (an armed intruder) or merely the constant thrum of self-criticism (or work pressures, deadlines, micromanaging superiors), the body and mind respond in much the same way: shallow breath, racing heart, and tense muscles, preparing to take action to keep us safe. We may feel our shoulders lifting toward our ears, or pressure in our chest. Our brain’s normal activities of planning, organizing, and stepping back to assess the big picture slow down as our inner alarm bells scream, This is urgent! Quick, do something!
This ability to shift focus rapidly can be life-saving when we face actually dangerous circumstances, but it’s less helpful when we’re just trying to get by day-to-day. The multitude of demands on our time and attention tend to keep us in this stressed state, leaving scant opportunity for creative thought, goal setting, or to even begin checking in to ask ourselves if we’re happy and fulfilled in our lives.
How Mindfulness Helps You Find Time
Mindfulness offers practical tools to help take back your time, get off the hamster wheel, and check-in honestly with yourself. By taking simple, five-minute mindful breaks, we can become more cognizant of our thoughts, body sensations, emotions, behaviors, and habits. We can more easily recognize when our body is in panic mode, or when stress has our shoulders up and our stomach in knots. We can pause to take a few deep breaths, allow the brain time to register that there is no immediate threat, which then allows our body to gradually calm down. It’s from this place of calm and stable attention that we’re able to think more clearly and choose our responses, rather than react out of impulse.
When we choose to practice mindfulness, we open up space for intentional planning, goal setting, and creative thought. When we choose mindfulness, we choose to no longer be exhausted and overwhelmed by putting out fires (in our mind, anyway). We choose to reflect on our values, guided by clarity about our strengths as well as the areas where we’re ready to grow. We notice what fuels our energy, what depletes us, what to delegate, and what to focus on. We have the energy to step out of our comfort zones, challenge ourselves, and overcome barriers to achieve success in the areas that matter most to us.
Connect in the Morning: Before you dive into the to-dos of your daily routine, take five minutes to connect with your breath, and notice what your body feels like. What your breath is doing. How your shoulders feel.
Create a Habit: If you like, use an app (here are some free options) or download a guided meditation to get started. Carve out five minutes every day to sit comfortably and notice your breath moving in and out. If five minutes seems like too much, start with one minute. The goal is to simply make a habit of choosing to practice. Figure out where, when, how, and why you will carve out those minutes—knowing your motivation will help encourage you to continue.
Add Mindful Breaks to Transition Moments: Even quicker than your daily morning meditation, identify opportunities throughout your day to pause and bring our attention to what is happening in the moment. We can take a mindful break anytime, anywhere—during our commute, at our desk at work after sending an email, or whenever there’s a transition moment. For example, here’s how you could take a mindful break while drinking your coffee or tea:
How to Take a Mindful Coffee Break
- Whether in your workplace or at home (don’t do this if you’re driving!), pause and bring your full attention to your beloved cuppa.
- Move your attention through the sensations you can notice right now. See and feel the warm mug between your hands, and inhale the delightful aroma.
- When you’re ready, fully taste those first few sips, sensing the warm liquid gliding down your throat. Be aware that you are drinking your coffee while you do.
So much nicer, right?
Practice this daily for a week, along with five minutes of meditation. Eventually, the breaks will become a habit, and your days will be infused with mindfulness and, somehow, just a little bit more time.