It’s a challenging transition – both mentally and physically – from the relaxed pace of summer to the hustle and bustle of fall. As our schedules get busier, stress is inevitable, and as doers, our first instinct is to try to take control. But many of our stressors are not within our control, from work deadlines and after-school activities to a downturn in the market. Unable to change these stressors, we may find ourselves constantly thinking about them, which puts us in autopilot mode and removes us from the present moment. When we’re constantly in this state, we tend to demonstrate lower ratings of happiness and develop symptoms of chronic stress, including physical tension, sleep difficulties, irritability and poor concentration.
During summer vacation, we often give ourselves permission to suspend thinking about our stressors by shifting our attention to the present moment. Lounging on the beach, we notice the softness of the breeze on our skin and the feeling of sand between our toes. We call this mode of being mindfulness. When practiced, it is associated with a host of positive outcomes including lower levels of subjective stress and higher ratings of calm and happiness.
The bottom line? Even though our external stressors of life are still present, mindfulness has the potential to reduce the suffering caused by them.
The invitation here is to experiment with a more sustainable approach to managing stress, with the knowledge that stressors are continuous and often outside of our realm of control.
What might happen if, from time to time throughout our workday, we choose to “wake up” to the present moment – just as we do at the beach?
Before reading any further, let’s pause for a brief mindfulness practice. Notice your feet, how they’re positioned, and what they’re connected to. Bring awareness to your breath, wherever it is most prominent in your body. Notice your chest rising and falling, the movement of your belly, or the air moving past your nostrils. Now close your eyes for a few moments and follow your breath as it enters and leaves the body.
What did you notice during this practice? Did you become more aware of the tension in your body? Perhaps you felt its release.
While it may seem simple, mindfulness can be difficult to implement regularly in a way that is helpful. The benefits of a mindfulness practice accrue similarly to those of exercise; they’re best realized when you practice regularly for a defined length of time.