The idea of mindfulness used to scare me. Being alone with my thoughts is something I truly struggled with. Anxiety, lists, worries, and negativity would creep in. I didn’t see the use of mindfulness because my only experiences with it had created even more anxiety. The utility of the practice was not apparent to me and above all else, I told myself I didn’t have the ability to do it.
I remember while on my hike on the Appalachian Trail, the worry I had about being alone with my thoughts day after day. I distinctly remember getting that antsy feeling all over my body the first few days. Partly because I was high on anticipation and excitement for my hike but a little worried for what my thoughts might bring about while alone. Even after having gone to therapy, feeling okay with how I had been doing, I developed an internal dialogue that this whole mindfulness thing wasn’t for me – not before, and not then.
Now, just over two years later, I can see how close minded I was being. I shouldn’t have been scared of my own thoughts and feelings, and taken advantage of a perfect opportunity of being in tune with how my body felt through that amazing adventure. Through therapy after college, I had learned how to manage times of anxiety or stress when they’d appear and being mindful of those times, and I needed to re-establish that in my routine.
Anxiety has always been present in my life (as it is for many), but it didn’t feel problematic. I managed through high school and most of college and I landed my first consulting job in Michigan shortly after graduating. All those experiences were fluid and part of steady growth in my young adult life. It wasn’t until I reached a point of serious discomfort, that certain anxieties reared their ugly head. Instead of fueling my motivation and productivity, as it had in the past, it put me in a place where I felt paralyzed, stuck and was being unfair to my body. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, but in retrospect, it was the fork in the road that changed my life. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t experience being completely out of my comfort zone. It forced me to actively make a change and embrace a more mindful life.
Deciding to make that change took work. It wasn’t one thing, one person or one event. It was a series of things over time that started to open my mind and prepare me to be able to handle any challenges. First thing’s first: THERAPY. I found an incredible individual who i felt comfortable with and truly helped me out of a hard time. When coming from a place of disordered eating, first it is up to the individual to accept the need to change and take care of yourself, then comes asking for help. Sometimes it takes someone completely objective and outside of your direct circle to help you see the situation through a new lens. The second: MOVEMENT: I found a community and love for exercise that worked for me and that allowed me to challenge my body without becoming overly critical and negative on the outcomes. My only prior experience with exercise was intense cardio – punishment style. My motivation for working out was a response to the food I ate. This new outlook on movement (not particularly “exercise”) allowed me to experience moving and strengthening my body mindfully. And last but not least: FOOD. This is the most important aspect. Once I started to accept food and now study nutrition, I started to actively tune into my body and engage with how it was feeling. I learned that what made me feel nourished, energized and happy was an abundance of real, whole, healthy food and everything in moderation. Mindful eating is something I work on every single day.
My practice of mindfulness is not perfect by any means and is always fluid, but I have learned a few things along the way that I wanted to share. Everyone has their own journey and what will work for them but this is mine:
- Have no judgment. We cannot all be perfect or the best at a chosen activity. There is no scale when it comes to mindfulness. We have to accept what we can do for ourselves at any particular moment. I like to think as mindfulness as a muscle that gets stronger over time. Whether that is committing to a stretching session once a week or 5 minutes of morning meditation each day. One is not better than the other. No one is taking score!
- Create a mindful mantra or movement. A short, directed, personalized mantra or sign that you can say or do when you find yourself shifting into an anxious or negative state of mind and losing presence. For me, in therapy she had me a take a deep breath and place my hand, palm down on my chest. For others it may be saying something like: “I am strong and capable.” Mantras help to ground us in stressful situations.
- Eat with intention. So often we eat mindlessly. In front of a screen, in the car, standing answering an email, on the phone etc. Relish in the short moments you have with your food. Think about what the food is doing for you physically and mentally. Whether it be a super nourishing dinner or a large serving of ice cream – give it the attention it deserves. The act of appreciating and consciously experiencing our food opens the door to creating a mindful experience with food. I have learned when embracing this perspective that I can enjoy my food even more and never have guilt or negatively creep back in.
- Find movement that is therapeutic for you. If the thought of a yoga class makes you cringe – then don’t do it. Same for running or spin class. Mindful movement prompts physical focus, mental ease, and most importantly mind-body connection. For me, that has become hiking, walking, and crossfit. It used to be spinning and HIIT classes for me, but things have changed. Your mindful movement can be a series of things and change every week! Do what feels good for you.
- Schedule ‘me time’ on your calendar. I take a half hour in the morning to enjoy my warm beverage and settle into my day. And try to carve out another half hour or hour for a chosen type of movement later in the day We are constantly go go go and doing everything for everyone else. We need to prioritize our self-care time.
That’s it for now, another Monday Mindfulness post to help share my journey! I hope this encourages you to look into mindfulness and what it means for you!