If you’re busy, fulfilling multiple roles that each pull you in a thousand directions seemingly at once, the idea of living with mindfulness to feel relaxed might seem more like a cruel taunt than a path to peace. For me, mindfulness was once a distant goal, in theory top on my to-do list but in reality something that seemed attainable only after I cleared my plate just a bit. If you can relate, read on. Mindfulness might not be what you think. Here are 5 practical ways to be relaxed and light when you’re scattered and heavy.
Mindful When Busy? Give Me a Break!
The idea of mindfulness often conjures images of serene monks and nuns in monasteries or experts leading retreats for people who have paid money and carved out a chunk of time to learn how to be mindful. That’s what I first imagined when I thought about living more mindfully, relaxed, and light.
The idea of practicing mindfulness felt like a distant, probably unattainable, dream. To me, it seemed downright ridiculous. I didn’t have the time or the resources to go to a retreat or study under a guru. I had kids. A job. Responsibilities. Add mindfulness to my infinite to-do list? Give me a break! No, don’t try to give me a break–I can’t take one. I’ll relax later, when I have more time.
Over the years, I’ve learned much more about mindful living. The image of serene people in monasteries and retreats is only part of the bigger picture. It isn’t even a necessary component of your own, personal mindful way of life. That image largely involves meditation, which is similar to but different from mindfulness, and while it is a powerful way to cultivate inner calm, it isn’t something you have to stress about and try to cram it into an already chaotic schedule.
So do give yourself a break and relax. You don’t need extra time to “do” mindfulness. Let’s look at just 5 ways you can use it right smack in the middle of your busy life to feel more relaxed in spite of everything you’ve got going on in your life.
5 Ways to Be Mindfully Relaxed While Busy
Mindfulness is especially for helping you be centered amidst chaos. It isn’t a responsibility and practice piled on to your plate. Instead, mindfulness is a way of life that involves fully experiencing the present moment as it is, accepting it without judging it and immersing yourself in an aspect of it that you choose.
Mindfulness doesn’t happen only when you’re not busy. The point of it is to help you be centered amidst your ongoing, daily chaos. Rather than having to step away (which actually is a healthy thing to begin to do during your day but isn’t a requirement for mindfulness), you live mindfully moment by moment in order to be mindful, calm, relaxed, and light no matter what chaos is happening around you. Because let’s face it, you might be surrounded by your kids who are tired and wired, cranky or playful, hungry, messy, trying to find what they need instead of buckled in the car on the way to an activity…. You might be in a meeting or working on a project with a deadline…. You’re also replaying that fight with your partner or coworker in your mind…. (Oh yes, the mind and our thoughts about things add an especially delightful layer to the chaos around us.)
Enter mindfulness. You can be mindful immediately. It’s not something you must add to your to-do list for “someday when I’m not so busy.” Try these 5 tips for being mindfully present in whatever you’re doing so you can feel light and calm.
1. Know Your Values, Your Purpose
One important component of acceptance and commitment therapy, an approach to creating wellbeing and the quality life that you desire, is identifying your values. Knowing what’s important to you gives you a sense of purpose and meaning and helps you stay focused on the big picture when the little details of daily life threaten to overwhelm you. Form a mental image of the life you value (imagine what your family is like, yourself doing what makes you happy, etc.). When you feel overwhelmed, chaotic, and heavy, close your eyes and visualize your valued life. A brief moment of being mindful with (focusing on and paying attention to) what you value can help you feel calmer and more centered in the moment, able to deal with your demands with a sense of purpose.
2. Focus on the meaning of this moment.
Whether it’s your kids, your partner, your boss, or your long to-do list (or all of them and more) that have you frazzled and at your freak-out point, step away from your thoughts and feelings about everything and pull yourself into your moment. Is there meaning in your toddler having a tantrum on the floor because she doesn’t want to stop what she’s doing? There is. Think of the relationship you want to have with her and how you want her to learn to regulate her emotions (and just cooperate, darn it). You are in this moment. Living fully in it doesn’t necessarily make it easy, but it does help you concentrate more completely on how you want to respond to what’s happening.
3. One thing at a time
No matter how hard we try or how much we want it to, the human brain isn’t designed for multitasking. We’re actually more productive, not less, when we rein things in and focus on one task at a time. Mindfulness, because it involves concentrating on and being fully present with one thing in the present moment, allows us to do that. Choose one thing on your gigantic list that you want to do right now, and commit to working only on that. When distracted thoughts and impulses pull you away, simply redirect your attention to your task at hand. What about when someone demands immediate attention and you must give it to them? By all means, do that. Turn your attention away from one task and onto the next as you need to. To feel most in-control and relaxed about it, still do one thing at a time rather than trying to attend to more than one at once. To help, return to number two and remember the meaning of this task in this moment, a task at a time.
4. Use a Focus Object
To help you calm your thoughts and find your center amidst chaos, use a focus object that you can concentrate on mindfully to switch from chaos to relaxation. It can be tied to the meaning of your moment or can be an unrelated object that merely allows you to focus your attention. If, for example, you’re overwhelmed by work, recall your greater purpose and then identify the meaning of one task at hand. Or, if you prefer, select an unrelated focus object (a photo, an inspirational saying taped on your wall, a rock you picked up once because you liked it). In a moment of overwhelm, be mindful with it. Study it and note what it looks like, paying attention to nuances like shades of color or little marks; feel its texture; listen to it if it makes sound. Doing this for even the briefest of moments will pull you out of your thoughts and worries and directly into the present. This simple moment of focus can calm the nervous system to help you feel centered and a bit more relaxed.
5. Get your body on board with your mind.
Often, we feel especially stressed out when we’re busy because our body and mind aren’t on the same page. In reality, the bodymind (to use Deepak Chopra and Rudoph Tanzi’s term) is one cohesive whole, and when it’s in synch, it operates much more smoothly and efficiently. Get yourself in synch in any moment by doing one of these simple things on-the-go:
- Breathe. Taking several slow, deep breaths turns off your fight-or-flight response and gets your whole body, via the parasympathetic nervous system, into a state of calm (deep breathing slows your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood flow to your organs, and halts the production of stress hormones, helping you feel more relaxed even though you’re busy).
- Stretch. Learn a few yoga poses you can do off the mat in your moment, or simply move your body in a way that feels good. You’ll release built-up tension.
- Nourish. Take a decent drink of water or tea to stay hydrated. Eat something quick and healthy (a handful of nuts, some carrots, a banana, some granola) to keep your entire system, brain and body, fueled so you can deal with challenges.
You don’t have to wait until you’re less busy before you can begin to live mindfully. Mindfulness isn’t another item on your to-do list but is a way of life that allows you to be fully present in your moment and more relaxed and light no matter how busy you are.
Choose a tool that fits your style to help you be relaxed in all your moments of chaos, and check out these books and journals!
Help a child you care about develop the life skills to be mindful when busy and relaxed even when they’re scattered with this course for kids ages 8-12 (but with info that is useful for the whole family).