Maryanna Klatt, PhD, a professor of clinical family medicine at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, specializes in stress-related chronic illness and is trained in mindfulness, running a program called Mindfulness in Motion. She says to…
Tune into your body
Klatt says a great way to start on your path to lowered stress and heightened mindfulness is to be more aware of your body.
“Just some gentle stretches and awareness of where you’re holding your tension is a great starting point because when people acknowledge their body, they open up to what really is going on for them,” she said. Another exercise in mindfulness is to establish a habit that sets events into motion.
“It’s not about clearing your mind, it’s about seeing where your mind’s at,” said Klatt. “That’s why having a little meditation practice, even 5 or 10 minutes a day, can make a difference in bringing mindfulness to your activity during the whole day.”
In a spirited discussion, it’s all too easy to stop listening to others as you wait for your chance to speak. Klatt says she’s seen this in a classroom setting.
“One way to recognize that we are going a thousand miles an hour is to watch our thoughts,” she said. “If you’re not really listening, or not being present with whoever you’re with, that can be a wake-up call to be present and not miss the moment.”
Chart it out
A simple exercise can spell out, in stark terms, whether we’re truly living the life we want to live.
She asked students to create two pie charts, one to show how they’d like to divide the 24 hours in their day, and one to show how they actually spend their time. While the breakdown likely includes time away from the class room, it often doesn’t include any time that’s truly free.
“Earmarking open space intentionally every day, so it’s not for X, Y, or Z, not for exercising, not for reading, but for unstructured time, can help,” said Klatt. During this time, it’s important to set boundaries and consciously tell yourself that you’re taking time for yourself.
“It’s about being really honest with yourself about having clear boundaries and telling yourself that you’re going to take a break from work, or kids, or trying to solve problems, during the downtime,” Klatt explained. “I think that people waste their downtime. People feel doubly bad because they didn’t get anything productive done and what they really didn’t get done was relaxing.”
Think about meals
We’re often told to watch what we eat, but we’re rarely told to watch how or where we eat. While it’s fine to enjoy a treat full of empty calories from time to time, it’s probably best not to wolf down a bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television.
“If they’re going to eat it anyway, then savor it,” “Savor every moment of it because otherwise you’re getting all those calories and you’re missing the pleasure of it.”
Many people don’t acknowledge burnout until they’re fully burnt out. Recognizing the signs of burnout before it sets in can help with re-assessing and re-prioritizing.
Symptoms can include emotional exhaustion, the lack of a sense of personal accomplishment, a lack of excitement, and a pervasive mood of irritation.
“It’s when stuff that hadn’t in the past been a big deal suddenly becomes a big deal,” she said. “That’s the point where you want to step back before you get to the point where you’re really not effective at your job, nor effective at living the life that you want to live. Then it’s lose-lose.”
It’s always good to learn from the best.
To this end, Klatt suggests reading up on mindfulness and meditation. (She suggests the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Positive examples can also be found in daily life. People who are engaged in their job and their life might have good advice for finding the right balance.
“I think mentorship in terms of mindfulness has really meant a lot during my life,” said Klatt. “Sometimes, you stumble and don’t know how to move forward. I think people all around us have this wisdom, but we don’t take the time to think about who we respect in terms of how they live their lives.”