Mindfulness, how to disconnect and live in the now
We all know the drill: we plan our summer holiday, excited to leave the daily grind behind and finally kick off our shoes. No worries, no aggravation, just plenty of time to relax and recharge our batteries. But many people find that the moment they do kick back and get into holiday mode is often when they find themselves sprawled on a beach suffering from a raging headache or stuck in a hotel room battling the flu. If this happens to you, you are not alone.
Research at Tilburg University in the Netherlands shows that Leisure Sickness isn’t a myth and unfortunately, more and more people are suffering from it. Medically speaking, there is a reason for this: when you are under stress – such as during your daily 9 to 5 – your body’s immune system works especially well. It is boosted by extra outputs of adrenaline, which override everything else when you need to get things done. As soon as the stress and pressure to perform is removed and adrenaline levels fall, your immune system is more likely to collapse, leaving you vulnerable to illness. Your body recognizes that it’s ok to get sick and then starts doing the necessary repair work – and this can ruin even the best-laid holiday plans.
One way to avoid this work-play dance of stress is to practice the art of mindfulness. Mindfulness, a movement that draws on Eastern techniques and philosophies, has been gaining more and more followers over the past few years, mainly because it is giving people the tools they need to de-stress and lead happier lives, both at work and at play.
“We live in our heads”
Simply stress less
Victoria Gårder from Mindfulnessgruppen has four suggestions that can help you relieve time stress.
- Time is just a product of thought, a human construct. If you put your hand on a hot stove one minute can seem like an eternity, but if you’re doing something pleasurable, an hour can feel like a minute. We have only 24 hours each day. How do you want to spend them?
- Live in the present. We spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the past or worrying about the future. This creates anxiety and ‘time urgency’. Now is the only time you have in your life so when you live in the present you drop the auto-pilot and time disappears. Make every moment your own.
- Just be. Intentionally and every day. Note in your calendar a time to do this each day, perhaps for meditating. When we meditate, we step out of time and into the eternal present.
- Simplify your life. When we look closely at our days, we realize we spend a lot of time reading the news, watching TV, or just being online. Be aware of how you prioritize your time and then consciously give up certain things to enjoy ‘non-doing’.
Victoria Gårder, Mindfulness Instructor and COO at Stockholm’s Mindfulnessgruppen, says that many of us in the West ‘live in our heads’ full time, always connected, always following the same thought patterns, and thus suffering increasingly from stress-related illnesses and general unhappiness. She says the art of mindfulness can help us change these patterns by keeping us in the present and giving us new ways to react to any given situation.
“Our brain is a muscle and can be trained like any other,” says Gårder. “Research shows that our brains grow paths and the more we use these paths the stronger they get. So if we are always thinking about work problems or stressing about what we need to get done, those paths will be our ‘go-to places’, and we’ll find it difficult to get away from this so-called comfort zone, no matter where we are physically. Mindfulness is about laying down new paths, ones that give us the opportunity to move away from our set mental structures.”
Gårder says that society teaches us to act on our thoughts and emotions immediately, instead of taking a moment to consider our actions and responses. She says that if we want to be more peaceful then we need to be more peaceful: think peaceful thoughts and peacefulness will start to come. Think happy thoughts and happiness is within your reach.
This isn’t an overnight fix, of course. Instead, mindfulness is something that requires training and practice over time to get results.
“Mindfulness helps you to ‘be’ in a non-doing state,” Gårder says. “We’re owned by our thoughts, our emotions – and they drag us along with them, instead of the other way around. When practicing mindfulness we observe our thoughts or emotions or bodily sensations and instead of acting on them quickly, we step back and consider them. In doing this, we create a space within ourselves where we’re more immune to bad thoughts or stress or emotions. This gives us a completely different platform from which to conduct our lives.”
How to apply mindfulness to your vacation time
One way to start building that platform is when you go to bed. As you’re lying in bed, just before falling asleep, look back on your day and instead of focusing on everything that has gone wrong or things that are worrying you, pick out three things that gave you pleasure during the day. This could be anything from landing that big account to having a very satisfying cup of coffee. Big or small, make sure you take a moment to reflect on those things that brought you some level of joy during your day. Then think about one or two things that you could look forward to tomorrow. Again, that could be something as simple as an extra 15 minutes of sleep or maybe you’re meeting a good friend for lunch. The purpose is to start training your brain to follow more positive and pleasurable thoughts and by doing this nightly you will start laying down those new paths.
So how can you apply Mindfulness to your vacation time?
“When we go on holiday we have a lot of expectations. We’re going to relax, we have a long to-do list, we feel there are things we ‘have’ to experience. We create pressure on ourselves when on vacation, just like we do in our daily lives.”
‘Our brain is a muscle and can be trained like any other’
Gårder says one important way to avoid a stressful holiday is to manage your expectations. Realize that you only have so many hours in your day and you don’t ‘need’ to do everything. Paris will always be there. If you miss an exhibition it won’t make a huge difference in your life in the long run, and if it rains at the beach there are plenty of other ways to enjoy your down time.
“It’s important to think about why you feel you ‘have’ to do something. Do you want to go to a particular museum because it interests you? Or are you planning to go because everyone on Facebook says it’s the best one in London? Taking a moment to consider why you want to do something will free you to make choices that will lead to a happier experience. Get rid of the external expectations and cultivate ‘your’ thing, whatever that is.”
Move over, Sudoko
Enchanted Forest is a coloring book filled with beautiful illustrations by Scottish Johanna Basford. What makes it special is the fact that it's aimed at adults. It may seem mundane, but coloring is found to generate wellness and quietness in the brain, while stimulating areas related to motor skills and creativity. Basford's books are Amazon best-sellers, and she recently signed a deal for two more books.
Also important is to live in the present. We spend a lot of time thinking about the past or worrying about the future. We replay things in our minds, thinking, “I should have done that differently” or “Remember that great vacation we had last year – I hope it will be the same again.”
Gårder says, “These are time thieves. Reliving the past or worrying about the future takes time and energy from the present, taking away from the enjoyment you should be feeling right now, or really seeing what is happening right now. ‘Right now’ is the only time we have to live our lives. The past is gone and while we can have thoughts about the future we don’t know for sure what it is going to be like so now is the only time we have to live our lives.”
Social media is another thing that interferes with our enjoyment of the present moment. Posting endless selfies or pictures of where we’ve just been detracts from truly enjoying our experiences and it stops you from being in the moment. Gårder sees these activities as ego-driven and suggests turning off devices for a certain part of each day so that you can just ‘be.’ There is plenty of time to post holiday snaps after you’ve had your great experiences.
So remember: you can’t control whether Phil from Marketing will deliver that important report while you’re away and worrying about it will only steal pleasure from you as you enjoy spending time with friends and family at some far-flung destination. Take the time to create a balanced holiday, one that packs in enough things from your to-do list without leaving you running from place to place. Enjoy your vacation by remembering that each moment is here, right now – and once it’s gone you can’t get it back. So live in the present, take it at your own pace, and savor every moment as it happens.
Text: Judi Lembke
Published: May 27, 2015