How would it feel to be both productive and present? To get that to-do list done without the weighted pressure to do it all and do it well and “do it right now or else!”
This is what mindfulness practices have given me, and what I believe they can give to you, too.
Defined, mindfulness is calling your attention to and then living in this present moment: not with judgement, but with a sense of interest and curiosity. It’s noticing things, then letting them be as they are. There are many tools to guide us there, including yoga, journaling, and meditation. Meditation empowers us to train this mindful awareness as we aim to center ourselves with a sense of clearness and calm, often by focusing on our breath.
There’s this classic metaphor for meditation practice: your mind is this blank, clear blue sky, and you see your thoughts as the gentle, fluffy clouds floating by. You simply notice them and allow them to pass, maintaining your focus on that bright and beautiful day.
When I first heard this, I was incredulous. Friends, my brain doesn’t just have clouds. We’re talking heavy thunderstorms with overthinking thunders and jolts of lightning-like anxiety. And these clouds don’t just float: they roar and crash and can consume my attention in ways that feel like all the time and all at once.
At the time I drafted this blog to you, I was also preparing for my Praxis exam, editing my portfolio for graduation, coding hundreds of thesis transcripts, and managing the entire student social media for my SLP state organization. My brain is a productivity junkie. If she could do 100 projects at one time, girlfriend absolutely would and would do so without question.
I needed mindfulness for the very reasons my mind so heavily resisted it. For the longest time, I told myself that I could not slow down, sit with myself, breathe, and rest, because doing so was simply a waste of my valuable time, putting a wrench in all the progress I was in the midst of making. Now, I know that taking time to refocus and recharge also gives me the balance and brain power I need to achieve my goals, achieve them well, and, most importantly, not achieve them at the expense of myself. Self-care comes naturally to many people, but that has never been me. So shoutout to all the other beautiful bulldozers of the world: we truly know how to get things done as we push on and push through one to-do list after another. But from one bulldozer to another, you will be amazed with how much better you feel when you more consistently press pause and add taking care of yourself to those lists, too.
If you have a mind like mine, I picture mindfulness as restoring our agency: reconnecting with our own personal Mother Nature to scale back that storm whenever it’s not serving us.
Mindfulness can look like people sitting cross-legged and getting their zen on, but it doesn’t have to. For me, embracing mindfulness as a daily practice has meant simply taking a few minutes each day for intentional rest. Meditations, journaling, yoga, even a few intentional, deep breaths in my car after clinic–all these, and more, give myself permission to take a little time to process and simply be. I can allow all the stressors and storms I experience as an SLP and human being to pass, and then get back at it.
I think it’s important to remember that building up this attitude takes time, practice, and patience. EBP backs this up too: a study conducted by Taren et al. (2015) found that continuous meditation practice has physical impacts on the brain, such as lowering stress levels and helping you out of your amygdala, or emotion center, that mediates your “fight or flight” anxiety response. Truthfully, after being at it for a year, I’m finally starting to see carryover of mindfulness principles in my daily life and interactions with the people I love–things like noting my anxiety and stress, not feeling ashamed of or identifying with them, and moving forward in a calmer, more centered way. But just as we cannot expect our clients to generalize their goals beyond the therapy room on day one, we, too, cannot expect ourselves to immediately transfer any newfound sense of calm to our everyday life. If you are craving a little more peace and quiet in your mind and in your life, though, mindfulness can make a great first step.
I know firsthand how hard it can be to start so, in the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more mindfulness resources. For now, check out the Self-Care Toolkit section of our Low Stress Library, which gives some practical tools and resources for beginning mindfulness practices. Stay tuned, and stay inspired 💛
For Further Reading:
Taren, A. A., Gianaros, P. J., Greco, C. M., Lindsay, E. K., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K. W., Rosen, R. K., Ferris, J. L., Julson, E., Marsland, A. L., Bursley, J. K., Ramsburg, J., & Creswell, J. D. (2015). Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 10(12), 1758–1768. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv066