“We must slow down to a human tempo and we’ll begin to have time to listen.” – Thomas Merton
How to Mindfully Return from Your Summer Vacation
By Andrea Novakowski
Have you ever had the kind of laid-back vacation when you had time to just sit and let your mind flow where it would? (Maybe you just came back from one!) You walked the beach in the early morning, lingered over your morning coffee. You relaxed and re-charged. No pressure – thoughts just bubbled up. And so you headed back to work and your everyday life with new ideas, renewed energy, and a sense of hope.
But then when you actually walk into work and your everyday life, you’re smacked in the face with stress, the frenetic pace, and your old response to it all. All that new energy just drains away.
In their Harvard Business Review article “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy say that “most of us respond to rising demands in the workplace by putting in longer hours, which inevitably take a toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. That leads to declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of distraction, high turnover rates, and soaring medical costs among employees.”
If this sounds familiar, and if your vacation glow has already started to wear off, you may be thinking: there must be another way. And there is! It’s called mindfulness.
I’m in the beginning stages of a mindfulness course based on “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook” by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein. One of the things I’m learning is nonjudgmental awareness: observing others and myself in the moment. Pausing to observe helps me to be “at choice” in my responses.
A quote ascribed to Viktor Frankl noted that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” In other words, you have choices in how you respond to any situation.
I’ve started to notice when my energy begins to increase in an unhealthy way. I feel my heart beating faster, my face flushing. I know this isn’t good for my body, my health, or my psyche.
Here are a few strategies I’ve discovered for keeping my energy positive and healthy during my daily activities that I thought you might be able to use:
Breathing: Take a few deep breaths in and out before going into your next activity. Set an intention of what you want to accomplish – perhaps it’s responding to your clients’ emails, or emptying your inbox. Whatever it is, do it while breathing and with intention. If you come across an email that provokes a reaction, try to catch yourself and notice. Breathe and create that space Frankl spoke about, so you can choose your response.
Walking: While walking to appointments, notice how you are moving. Intentionally slow down your pace and notice the sensations in your body. If you’re feeling tense, try to relax and soften before you get to the meeting.
Driving: Use red lights as an opportunity to notice your breathing. Remind yourself to breathe in and breathe out slowly. You are not in control of the pace of the traffic, but you can be aware of your feelings and your response.
Studies have shown that people with a long-term meditation practice show a significant decrease in emotionally reactive behavior. Meditation actually restructures your brain, allowing you to make more rational decisions, among other changes. And mindfulness can be the initial step of a meditation practice that allows you to stay in control of you.
This month, take time to experiment with mindfulness and maintain your energy in a healthy way.
YOUR CALL TO ACTION
The next time a situation makes your pulse race or your temper flare, try this simple three-step process before you react:
- Become aware of how you’re feeling in the moment.
- Move more slowly.
What happens when you do this exercise? How does it affect your response? Share what you learned in the Comment Section below.