Several days ago, I was driving to the grocery store. While I was on my way there, I was listening to music, thinking about my to-do list, and about things I wanted to have for dinner, amongst other topics. When I arrived and parked my car, I realized that I couldn’t recall the drive. I felt concerned and began to think to myself about the consequences of not being present. I could have hurt someone, ran a red light and gotten into a car accident, or simply missed a turn. I started to think about how at times, my mind functions on autopilot; going about my daily routines, checking off items on my to-do list, multitasking, and trying to fulfill my daily responsibilities. Although driving and not paying attention has serious consequences, I started to evaluate the consequences of living life on autopilot.
Living life on autopilot may lead to missing out on important moments. It may keep us from being fully engaged in our significant relationships. It can also lead to feelings of dissatisfaction or feelings of overwhelm once we begin to recognize what is happening in the situation. When we are living life on autopilot, it’s hard to make conscious decisions about how we would like things to be in our life. We can get stuck in a cycle of unconsciously reacting to everything around us.
Today, we live in a world where things are constantly pulling for our attention. Daily, we are presented with internet, television, text messages, work obligations, and the list continues. We can spend most of our waking hours ruminating about the past, thinking about the future, and essentially thinking about anything except what is taking place in the present moment. This type of “autopilot living” comes with great consequences and can lead to the feelings of overwhelm, stress, burnout, unhappiness, strained relationships, and increased anxiety. Although the consequences of mindless living are tough, we can begin to change established patterns through cultivating mindfulness in our daily routines.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be defined as bringing awareness to the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Practicing mindfulness allows us an opportunity to reflect on our feelings, thoughts, and experiences. As we consciously pay attention to the present moment, within and around us, we develop a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. By practicing mindfulness, we are rewiring our brain to be more present and develop positive changes in our attitudes, behaviors, and health.
Research shows that cultivating a lifestyle of mindfulness leads to more meaningful relationships, greater satisfaction with life, improved sleep, and reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety. When we are mindful, we can enjoy the pleasures in life as they occur, become fully engaged in the activities, and develop a greater ability to deal with challenging events. Being present in the “here and now” gives us an opportunity to choose how we would like to spend our time, invest our focus, and channel our energy. So, how do we begin cultivating mindful practice?
One helpful way to practice mindfulness in your everyday life is by using the simple acronym, S.T.O.P.
S stands for “stop what you’re doing.” When you notice tension, wandering thoughts, anxiety, or feelings of disconnect, this may be an opportunity to refocus and reorient to space by stopping whatever you’re doing.
T stand for “take a deep breath.” As you’re breathing, you want to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose, causing your stomach to rise and expand. Pay attention to the air traveling through your body and filling up your lungs. Exhale fully through your mouth. Our breath is like an anchor. It’s always present.
O stands for “observe your thoughts and feelings.” This is an opportunity to tune in with your mind, emotions, and body. What physical sensations are you experiencing? Are you standing or sitting? Do you experience any aches or pains? What are you feeling right now? What are you thinking about right now? Is there a story you’re telling yourself about why you’re having these feelings or thoughts?
P stands for “proceed with new awareness.” Based on the information that you gathered about how you are feeling and what you are thinking, you may decide to do something different or to do nothing. In the simple act of noticing, we can recognize our experiences and are already beginning to do something different. Understanding our experiences is powerful because knowing what is going on creates an opportunity to step toward acting with intention.
Practicing mindfulness is a counter-cultural practice. It requires you to slow down and notice what is happening without judgment. It creates an opportunity to tune in with yourself and your experiences. It helps with calming down and feeling more in control of your thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, it may be challenging to focus on the present moment. You may feel more anxious if you’re not used to being in the moment. Slowing down to focus on your attention can be unsettling.
If it’s the case for you, we would be glad to help you start practicing and becoming efficient at mindfulness. Remember to be gentle with yourself. It takes time to develop a mindfulness practice. Simply notice the challenges you’re experiencing and keep going. If the practice of mindfulness brings anxiety, fear, overwhelming emotions, you’re not alone. We are here to support you and walk with you through challenging experiences. Don’t hesitate to call today!
Written by therapist Viktor Terpay
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