|By John Schorling
Summer is here, which can often be a good time to practice mindfulness. There may be more time to practice formally by meditating regularly. With meditation practice we often say that more is better, and it is also important to remember that any practice is better than none. This can apply to even a few minutes a day, perhaps pausing before getting out of bed in the morning to do a short body scan or attention-focused meditation, noticing breathing, sounds or other sensations arising from the body. If more time is available, there is good evidence that meditating for 15 minutes a day can have positive effects on stress and emotion regulation. The evidence for benefits increases further with longer periods of meditation.
In addition to practicing formal meditation, summer offers many opportunities to practice mindfulness in everyday life. Many people take vacations during the summer and, if so, we may notice the anticipation that arises when thinking about returning to a favorite location, or traveling to a new destination. Some of the anticipation may be positive, related to old memories or excitement about going somewhere new. Some of it may not be so positive, if there are worries about travel or perhaps spending time with family or friends who might be challenging. If the feelings about an upcoming vacation are positive, we might intentionally cultivate them. One way to do this is to bring to mind what is appreciated about the experience. This might be thoughts about returning to a favorite place or going to someplace new, and holding this image in the mind for a few minutes. Practicing appreciation can decrease stress and lead to increased enjoyment of the events when they do occur.
The anticipation might also be more negative than positive. When this is the case, it can be important to assess whether the concerns are within our control or not. If they are, is there an action we might take to alleviate the concern? For instance, if we find driving in heavy traffic stressful is there a different time of day we might travel, or route we might take? If the concerns are outside of our control, we can acknowledge this, and note how we are feeling and where we are feeling it in the body. We might be feeling anxious about how a family member might act, and notice tightness in the chest. It can be helpful to name these- anxiousness, tightness in the chest- and respond with kindness rather than judgment. We might say to ourselves “Uncle Frank can be hard to be around when he drinks too much” rather than “Uncle Frank always ruins our vacations” or “I shouldn’t feel this way about Uncle Frank”. Having paid attention to our present moment experience in this way, we might choose to bring to mind something about the trip we are looking forward to, and intentionally cultivate appreciation about this. Just continuing to worry about Uncle Frank is likely only going to make us feel worse, and unlikely to change his behavior.
Despite all our planning and efforts to mitigate concerns, things don’t always turn out the way we hoped they would on vacation. When this happens, it can be important to pause and choose our response rather than to just react automatically which might only make things worse. If our flight gets canceled and we are rude to the reservation agent, they might be less willing to help us get where we want to go. We also might think the cancellation has ruined our vacation. This is often a manifestation of the negativity bias that causes us to give more weight to negative than positive events. On average, it can take up to five positive experiences to offset one that is negative. As a result, just like with anticipating the possibility of a negative event, when one actually occurs it can be helpful to note how we are feeling, and then intentionally choose to also appreciate good things that have happened.
Summer can be a positive time when we get to be with friends and family and experience favorite or new events. It can provide many opportunities to notice and appreciate these when they occur. Even
Filed Under: Monthly Musings