I am so excited about the Winter Olympic Games. While I’m not an avid sports fan, I feel we owe it to these dedicated, passionate, and extremely gifted athletes to pay attention to what they’re doing. Beyond the sheer physical strength and stamina that’s necessary for these athletes to arrive at the Olympic Games, I’m also impressed by their psychological capacity to handle the stress of it all.
This high level of stress is why so many elite athletes are turning to mindfulness practice to get on top of their psychological game, and reaping the rewards. At the Citron Hennessey offices in Manhattan, our therapists help people from all walks of life handle stress and anxiety. Just as the services sought by athletes can help them perform at the highest level possible, our counseling services are made to help people upgrade their operating system and handle stress effectively.
While any of us would be hard pressed to know the intense pressure Olympians must experience as they train and compete, we all definitely experience our own pressures and anxieties that challenge us each day. If mindfulness practice is helping top athletes handle the enormous psychological strain they endure, it’s likely it will help you, too.
CLIENT EXPERIENCES WITH MINDFULNESS
For instance, I work with a client at Citron Hennessey who has recently shifted into what she calls having “a bird’s-eye view” of her inner and outer experiences. After months of practice defusing from her judgmental and unhelpful thoughts as well as taking a curious and open stance to her beliefs and emotions, she has gained the capacity to “witness” herself without getting negatively triggered in the way she used to.
She has moved from being inside the drama of her thoughts and emotions. Now, she can notice when she is having thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them. She still has unhelpful automatic thoughts and difficult feelings, but she no longer identifies with them. This shift in her capacity to be more self-aware and self-reflective has reduced her anxiety, improved her relationships, and increased her productivity. Without actually meditating, my client has been practicing informal mindfulness and is reaping the rewards.
Another client has also taken to mindfulness and self-compassion as adaptive coping mechanisms designed to help him handle the panic he feels when he has to give presentations at work. He has found the practice to be so helpful that he recently wondered in a session why more of us don’t use these skills to navigate the high-stress environments in which we live and work.
INFORMAL MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
“But I don’t have time to sit and meditate!” is a common rebuttal I hear from clients when I suggest incorporating mindfulness into their lives. And I get it! That to-do list is a mile long and you never feel like you have enough time to accomplish all those tasks even on a good day, let alone take time aside to sit still! The beauty of developing the skill of mindfulness practice is that it doesn’t require that you become a Buddhist or even sit in uncomfortable, cross-legged positions for long periods of time.
Informal mindfulness, or “everyday mindfulness” can be a very effective way to reduce the internal experience of stress and anxiety, without the added pressure of having to formally sit down to meditate. So what does “informal practice” look like and what does it entail?
Informal mindfulness practice means practicing mindfulness in the midst of your daily life. Take time to practice mindfulness while eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, sitting in a traffic jam, waiting for the subway to arrive, while riding the subway, while walking down the street, while running on the treadmill, or taking a shower, or…honestly, this list is endless. I think you get the point.
Mindfulness is simply the act of purposely paying attention to the present moment as it is, with curiosity and not judgment. And seriously, you can learn to do this throughout your busy day for maximum benefits.
HERE’S HOW TO GET STARTED:
1. Notice that you are thinking.
This is harder than it sounds, but an important first step. For instance, while getting ready in the morning, you’re automatically going through the motions, while your mind is incessantly replaying the pitch you have to deliver later today over and over, ad nauseam. Just make a point to notice that you’re thinking, and suddenly you’ll find yourself standing in your bathroom brushing your teeth, instead of in the boardroom pitching your idea. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t fret. Just notice that you are thinking.
2. Notice your body.
Our bodies are always in the present moment; it is our minds that race to the past or future. But now that you’ve done step one and you’ve noticed the nonstop chatter of your mind, let go of the thoughts and come to your senses. See what’s right in front of you, whether it’s your own reflection in the bathroom mirror, or a stranger’s face sitting across from you on the train. Pay attention to what you hear. Open your ears and listen, even if you just to the sound of your own breathing. Notice your skin. What do you feel? If you’re in the shower, feel the water on your body. What smells are you aware of? Is someone cooking nearby? Can you make out what dish they’re preparing? Notice if you’re feeling hot or cold, anxious, angry, or calm. Just take a few seconds and pay attention to what you’re aware of in your body. Do this for 3 slow breaths. If your mind immediately pulls you away and back to your thoughts, then just notice thinking again and bring your attention back to your body.
3. Get on with your day, and repeat steps 1 and 2 as often as you can remember to do so.
If you’re interested in reaping the benefits of mindfulness and improving your state of mind, your mood, your relationships, or – like Olympians – your performance, and you’re concerned about finding time, then try practicing mindfulness. Just like top athletes, the more often you practice, the more likely you are to succeed.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness or how counseling services can help you manage the stress of life, then call Citron Hennessey. Our counselors are here to help.