Do you feel like there’s always a million thoughts swirling in your mind? Do you feel like you’re constantly thinking about the next thing on your to-do list? Do you feel tired and burnt-out, but despite this, unable to rest because you just cannot seem to switch off?
Firstly, I’d like to tell you that you’re not alone. Today’s modern lifestyle constantly bombards us with anxiety generating pressures. We’ve all got to deal with the rising cost of living, work stressors, relationship problems, health concerns and so much more. On top of that, there is a growing obsession with over productivity that makes us all feel like we’re not allowed to be idle at any point of the day. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and it’s okay to feel tired.
What is not alright is to keep pushing ourselves and ignoring high levels of stress. We must realise that just like the physical body, the mind needs a break too. And one of the best ways to slow down racing thoughts is to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness, as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is ‘paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment’. Focusing on the present helps prevent overthinking. It is a practice of self-compassion and resilience. It is stopping, taking a breath, evaluating where we’re at, letting go of any judgement that we might have about ourselves or our situation, and then, hopefully, finding a little bit more peace.
There are a lot of ways that we can practice mindfulness in our daily lives. In fact, it can be done while doing any task. When taking a walk in the park, we can actively try to feel the sun on our skin, notice the green in the trees and hear the birds chirping. When talking to someone, we can try to be more active in the conversation by putting down our phones and really giving that person our full attention. We can even practice mindful eating by chewing slowly and bringing our awareness to the taste and the texture of the food.
Another effective mini-mindfulness technique is the S-T-O-P exercise. This only takes about five minutes but can really help calm the mind and the nervous system, especially during difficult and stressful moments.
Stop everything that you’re doing. Hit the breaks on all of your thoughts and activities.
Take 3-5 deep and slow breaths. You can close your eyes if you want to. Breathe in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Notice the rising and falling of your chest.
Observe what is going on with your surroundings, your body, your mind, and your emotions. One at a time, ask yourself the following questions:
How does your body feel?
What thoughts are arising?
What emotions are dominant?
Notice these things but try your best not to apply any judgement to them.
Proceed with what you are doing, but this time with more mindfulness. Notice how you feel a little bit calmer and more settled in the mind. Be accepting and non-judgmental of any realisations that you may have come to during your STOP.
"The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness." ― Sakyong Mipham