Fill Your Summer with Mindfulness
Summer is right around the corner. You likely have vacations lined up and are counting the days to have a break from work. Maybe you plan to put your toes in the sand somewhere tropical or head north to breathe in fresh mountain air. You have worked all year and deserve some down time.
When you reflect back on previous summer vacations, do you recall feeling as though time went by too fast? Have vacations ever turned out unexpectedly more stressful than you had anticipated? I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say they wish they could take time off work to recover from their vacation. Ever wonder what the key is to having a genuinely enjoyable summer break?
Enhance Your Awareness
I challenge you to add an important mental skill into everything you do this summer — mindfulness. The definition of mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It’s used as a therapeutic technique. This state of mind allows you to fully experience the wonderful places you plan to travel, the loving people you plan to share these experiences with, and even just day-to-day gifts in your summer world.
The skill of mindfulness, like all skills, takes time and practice to master. I’m not a soccer player. If I decided I was going to become a soccer player, I would need to commit to frequent and consistent practices. I would need to incorporate a variety of drills into my practice and train different muscle groups to perform the way I would need them to in a game. Mental skills are no exception. If you want to train your brain to quiet down and learn to fully experience what is going on in the moment, you need to be prepared to engage in some training.
So, what exactly does training your brain to be mindful involve? There are a variety of techniques. I encourage you to experiment with several to determine what your mind and body respond to best. Don’t rule out techniques until you try them. You might be surprised to learn just how effective some relaxation exercises can be.
Deep breathing is a popular starting point. This involves slowly inhaling through your nose, holding your breath briefly, and then exhaling out air in a slow controlled manner. You want to be sure to fill your lungs and your abdominal area with air to effectively take that deep breath you are striving for.
Taking control of your breathing allows you to slow down your heart rate, decrease body temperature, and settles racing thoughts. You may notice that when you start this exercise it is difficult to take slow breaths. Keep working at it until you can inhale to a slow count of 4, hold for a count of 4, and slowly exhale to a count of 4. You will be amazed at how much clearer your thoughts become as result. Gaining an awareness of your breathing helps you to gauge your level of stress, consequently giving you the opportunity to manage it effectively and be present to what is going on around you.
Other common relaxation exercises include muscle relaxation and guided imagery. Muscle relaxation is the practice of tightening and loosening muscles to release tension from the body. Guided imagery comes in a variety of forms, but ultimately helps the mind visualize certain scenes, acts, or states of mind that create a calming mental and physical effect on the body.
Two of my favorite resources for research and tools to get you started are:
- UCLA, Mindfulness Awareness Research Center: Visit www.marc.ucla.edu for the most recent research on mindfulness as well as video tutorials and weekly podcasts.
- Headspace: This is a wonderful app available for both Android and iOS users. The first 10 levels of meditation are free, and if you like it, you can subscribe to unlock a whole host of other levels and specialized areas of meditation. Try plugging your headphones in and completing a level every morning and every night. Andy Puddicombe is the co-founder and has been featured on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Ellen DeGeneres Show where he shares his inspiring story about creating Headspace.
You might be wondering how this will impact your summer vacation. Choosing to incorporate relaxation and mindfulness into your lifestyle not only is physically and mentally healthy for you in general, it will allow you the mental and emotional space to fully embrace your summer. The positive impact on your physical health alone will lead you to be more engaged and present in your daily activities.
The healthier mental state will keep you focused on what’s important, you’ll become aware of what to let go so you’re not over committing yourself. You may start to notice more about the people around you, what you appreciate about them, or just how beautiful they are to you. The colors around you start to pop. You might actually take the time to taste the food you are eating.
Mindfulness is a tough skill to practice in our busy world. Take small reasonable steps to start out, and make a commitment to stick with it even if it doesn’t feel effective right away. At the end of the summer, I hope you feel refreshed and can appreciate the many memories that were made.
Kristin Woodling, a licensed mental health counselor and certified marriage and family therapist, is the owner of Pamper Your Mind, LLC in Satellite Beach. Woodling promotes strong mental health services in her community and teaches counseling at Webster University and Eastern Florida State College. She is a graduate of the 360 Ignite program offered through WeVenture at Florida Institute of Technology and enjoys volunteering as a mentor to help other professionals excel personally and professionally.
As featured in our DIGITAL MAGAZINE.