Why not make “Mindful Awareness” a New Year’s Resolution?

January 30, 2017 by School of Medicine Webmaster

Mindfulness is creating awareness of the present moment without judgment.  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is training in how to actually learn and incorporate this practice into our lives. It isn’t easy to be fully present when most of our lives are layered with complexities today, filling every moment.  However, on a rare occasion, when there is an unexpected “free” moment of time, this free time may actually increase our stress. As one UVA psychologist found out, some folks would rather give themselves an electric shock than to sit quietly for a period of time with no distractions or stimuli. This may seem unlikely, but maybe not, in light of the constant stimuli that surround us.  These frequent demands for our attention often lead to constant multitasking throughout the day. We are now finding out that an over abundance of multitasking may not be so good for our brains and health.  It may also feel uncomfortable to sit still with nothing on our agendas. Thoughts, feelings and sensations can arise that have been previously distracted from our attention through this constant bombardment of stimuli. This can create increased stress in addition to our already stress-filled day.

Multitasking has become a modern way of life.  Social media, texting, phone calls, emails, pagers, letters and IM messaging all distract us.  Faster computers with improved technology inject additional streams of information for meetings, reminders, latest emails, instant news reports layered neatly through pop up screens that appear consistently on our computer screens throughout the day.

Recent studies show that almost 50% of the time we spend doing one thing, we are actually thinking about something else.  Have you ever tried to talk to a coworker, patient or friend and noticed their eyes directed to their phone or computer screen, instead of you?  Do you notice others walking down the street not looking where they are going but rather looking at their cell phones?  Do you find yourself looking at your phone or computer for most of the day, even when you’re eating, walking or perhaps driving?

This persistent multitasking can result in an underlying fatigue.  Mental, emotional, psychological and physical fatigue results from sitting long periods of time with constant bombardment from multiple sources. How do we stop this unhealthy cycle?

One way is by taking a pause.   We can gently bring our minds back to the present moment by focusing on taking a deep breath and noticing our lungs expanding and contracting.  This gives our minds a break from multitasking, helps us to look away from the computer screen and just feels good to take a deep breath.  In addition to noting breathing, it allows us the opportunity to check in with our bodies, perhaps letting us know we need to change positions or shrug our shoulders or get up for a few moments.   Another simple way to create our own awareness of the present moment, is to pay attention to our first bite of food, noticing the tastes, likes or dislikes of this first bite.   It sounds simple, but many of us have little time to eat and even less time to consider what we are eating.  Food is more enjoyable when we engage with what we eat and this noticing helps us to not overeat, another benefit of cultivating awareness as we begin a meal.

Another practice to create awareness is when travelling home to take a pause before walking in the door; to become fully present to meet and greet the folks at hand.  This creates a “space” of permission to leave work behind for a few moments and connect fully to our loved ones or pet, giving our full attention.  Many find this to be rewarding and nourishing, taking only 5-10 minutes and helps set the tone for the whole evening.

By noticing what’s happening with gentle curiosity, we start to work constructively with the events of our lives, by gently bringing our attention back to the here and now.  This can help us to let go of unhelpful interpretations or stories of the events, thus minimizing excess anxiety and to see the situations as they really are.  Pleasant sensations can be experienced and savored, like focusing on that first bite of food, instead of wolfing down a meal absentmindedly and then overeating.  Unpleasant sensations can be acknowledged and then accepted, thus creating the opportunity for resiliency and change, without energy being wasted on resisting what already has occurred and making matters worse.

How about starting out this New Year with positive change by creating a little present moment awareness each day?   Our hearts, souls, minds and especially our health will benefit from this.   May this year be truly a healthier and happier New Year!


Filed Under: Monthly Musings