Every night, before my kids head to bed,, I stop whatever work I’m doing and spend some time playing or reading with them. Trouble is, I sometimes find my thoughts turning toward work while I’m on the floor with them, messing around with the latest toy. I think about that email I still have to send, or mentally run through the list of clients I’m scheduled to see the next day. I don’t think it’s something my kids notice, but my work-focused daydreaming harms my ability to be as present with my loved ones as I could be.
That all changed when I made mindfulness a regular part of my routine. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware and focused solely on where you are and what you’re doing. Instead of being inside your head, focused on your thoughts, you’re intentionally inhabiting your present moment.
Being present for the people around you isn’t the only benefit of this change of focus. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mindfulness can also reduce stress, which in turn is good for your physical health. It can boost your attention span, regulate emotion and help you better manage negative experiences.
Most of us, however, don’t actually take the time (or know how) to practice mindfulness. My colleague Dr. Jack Muskat, Medcan’s clinical director of mental health, has previously written about how we don’t relax enough. Also an issue for contemporary professionals is what we do with the time that we’ve previously reserved for relaxing. Some of us fill our downtime by thinking about work: what’s coming up, or how to get ahead. Others pick up their phones and scroll aimlessly for 10 minutes or more. Neither activity is restorative or fulfilling.
Which brings up another benefit of mindfulness: The practice of being in the present moment can help us to make the most of our downtime. The idea is to create opportunities for relaxing that actually do relax us, and recharge our batteries for life.
It’s not an easy task. Mindfulness is a skill, not a trick. You need to practice and build it up over time. You may not feel the results right away, either. But once you do, you won’t regret it.
Here are some simple ways to include mindfulness in your own downtime.
Mindfulness has helped me personally. Nowadays, when I’m spending that time with my kids, I feel more present. Because I’ve found a way to pull mindfulness into my own downtime, I’m able to enjoy these periods of play a lot more. It benefits my children for me to be fully present for them, but it’s a lot more fun for me, too.