Are You Overwhelmed?
You have so much to do that you can’t focus. You feel tense so often that it is “normal” for you. You feel like you can’t work any harder, yet you feel like you are spinning your wheels. You focus on painful memories to the detriment of present peace. Does this sound familiar?
I think if we are honest, most of us can relate to feeling overwhelmed, at least occasionally. Some of us, more than occasionally. Why is it that some of us have extremely demanding careers, busy family and social commitments, yet still avoid a constant state of tension?
The reality is that all of us are limited to 24 hours and 7 days to each week. Some of us may be a little stronger, weaker, smarter, slower, or more articulate, but most of us have similar abilities, with some areas of strengths and some areas of weakness. No one goes through life stress-free, and no one escapes painful memories.
Beating stress isn’t easy, but it is possible for all of us to improve our ability to cope. Many people with significant demands have learned to avoid feeling overwhelmed. One practice that will enable you to beat stress and experience more peace in your life is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a practice in which we are focused on the present, with acceptance of our physical and emotional sensations. This acceptance involves a nonjudgmental and calm attitude. By practicing mindfulness, we narrow our focus from our many demands (finances, health, relationships, work, and countless other responsibilities) to what is going on in the current moment.
This practice may sound mundane, but achieving a state of presentness is profound. As we focus on the here and now, we achieve greater peace. This practice is not easy. Our entire culture draws us to the urgent (cell phones, emails, and social media) and to quick fixes for our problems.
We have it backwards. We have deluded ourselves into believing that a focus on simple everyday activities, such as watching the sun rise, or enjoying a conversation in which we are truly present with another person, is somehow less significant than multitasking and planning for the future.
Mindfulness is a state of being more so than a simple technique or attitude. There are activities and thinking patterns that can help us achieve mindfulness. The more we incorporate these behaviors into our routines, the more likely we are to be mindful.
If you want to begin practicing mindfulness, the first step is to focus on your current situation. What are you senses telling you? What do you hear, see, smell, touch, and smell? Does your chair feel hard or soft? What colors do you notice? What emotions are you currently experiencing?
Don’t try to fight these perceptions. Attempt to accept them for what they are. You are not trying to change anything. You are attempting to accept yourself and your experience for what it is.
An Attitude Adjustment
If you want to practice mindfulness, it will be important for you to begin changing your thinking patterns. Rather than focusing on your concerns, attempt to empty your mind. Rather than making judgements about yourself or others, accept without judgment.
We have difficulty emptying our minds. We are so accustomed to to the pull of the news, social media, and our to do lists, that it is rare for our thoughts to be clear. It is often helpful to focus on a peaceful memory to help clear your mind. Perhaps you recall a relaxing day at the beach and can recall the pleasant sensation of the sun falling on you.
There is certainly a time for planning and a time to judge, but not when you are attempting to be present. Balance is key.
Proper Posture And Muscle Tone
Make a fist and flex your bicep. Don’t do this halfheartedly, but really try to put some strength into it. Hold…hold…hold. Eventually, you should feel your arm shake and start to get tired. Let your arm drop onto your knee.
Do you feel the heavy, loose sensation in your muscle. That is the feeling you should have in your muscles when they are relaxed. They should feel heavy and loose.
If you are sitting in your chair, don’t cross your arms or legs. When you cross your arms and legs, there is some constriction that can interfere with breathing. Try to achieve a comfortable posture in which you are not slouching, nor are you sitting firmly at attention, but somewhere in the middle.
When we are relaxed, our breathing slows and becomes deep. When we are breathing deeply, the diaphragm causes our belly to expand. If you are breathing in a relaxed manner, it should take approximately 10 seconds from the time you draw a breath in until you let it out.
This contrasts to times when we are under stress. When we are stressed, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow — almost as if the breath were stopped short in our chest without going all the way down into the depths of our lungs.
Proper breathing is a crucial aspect of mindfulness. If you breathe slowly and deeply, your body and mind will begin to relax. Relaxation helps us to be more present and accepting of our current situation.
Mindfulness is not a set of techniques, but is a way of being that involves calmly being present without judgment. There are a number of techniques that can help us experience mindfulness, such as proper breathing, thinking, and posture. Meditation (or relaxation training) is an attempt to integrate several of these techniques and is a powerful tool for increased emotional stability.
I plan to write a future post that will include more specific instructions for meditation. The aim of this post was to introduce the concept of mindfulness and provide guidance into how principles of mindfulness may be incorporated into your life. Attempt to implement these strategies a little at a time, with the goal of being more present and nonjudgmental in your at least some of your daily life. Practicing mindfulness will help you achieve greater health and peace.
About the Author
Dr. Dave Spriggs is a psychologist licensed in North Carolina. He owns a private practice located in Kernersville, NC. People seek Dr. Spriggs’ services for a variety of reasons, but he specializes in relationship issues, treatment of mood problems, and serving people who wish to integrate their Christian Faith into the counseling process. Dr. Spriggs finds that mindfulness practice greatly improves stress coping and emotional stability and often incorporates mindfulness into psychotherapy.