Returning to Mindfulness

Recently, I have found myself feeling increased stress at work, at home and just generally. I think the cold weather and snow, along with the missing sun is taking its toll on my emotions and my body. How about you? Are you feeling more irritable, more worry, less energetic? There is a lot going on in the world and in people’s lives. We are all just starting to feel like the lives we have lived since 2020 are shifting into something more normal feeling, and we have paid a price for the past three years. Add to that, many of us are facing financial challenges, watching as the cost of mortgages and food and gas bills rise steadily, while our pay checks do not match the new cost of living. These things carry a lot of emotional weight and we may only have so much strength to carry them well.

I was talking with some colleagues recently who shared with me that they are feeling much more stress at work. Whether we are being asked to do more with less, to add to our list of responsibilities with less time for ourselves and our families, or carrying the weight of other people’s stresses, the demands of our work can increase our stress levels and decrease our satisfactions. So many school leaders I know are struggling, faced with numerous challenges every day, from managing staff and students, to overseeing operations and finances. It can be easy to become overwhelmed and stressed, especially in a constantly changing and demanding work environment.

Recently, I have returned to a practice that has, in the past, brought me a sense of calm and grounding. I had left it for a while, set aside because I felt this increased stress and worry, which is precisely when I needed to hold to this practice. But I have returned to it because I know that mindfulness can help reduce stress and increase resilience, allowing me to better handle the demands of my work, of raising a family, of calmly working through relationship stresses and more. Mindfulness is the key I had been missing for some time and as I return to it, I hope that sharing some of my thoughts and practices can help you if you may be considering how mindfulness can help you too.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and engaged in the current moment, paying attention to our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. It helps to reduce distractions, increase focus, and improve well-being.

So often we are not fully present in the moment. We are replaying a situation that happened yesterday, wishing we had handled it differently. If you are a parent of a teenager, like I am, you probably wish you had said something more helpful or not lost your cool when your teen rolled their eyes and muttered something under their breath again!

Or, we live in the future, worrying about how we will keep up with all the concerns that come our way…how will I afford the huge increases in my bills? Why did my mortgage rate go up again and what if I can’t keep up with all these increases? How am I going to afford to send my kid to post-secondary education? What if they don’t get there right away? Will their lives be forever ruined because I chose to pay the heating bill instead of making a contribution to their college fund?

Living in the past or in the future is not real. We simply can’t relive a moment once it has passed. We can certainly repair relationships when we have hurt someone. We can certainly decide to handle a situation differently if it comes up again. But we can not go back and change the past, so living there is an illusion. Living in the future, when we are worried about what might be is also an illusion and can only cause us harm. We don’t know what will happen. It hasn’t happened yet. When we worry about the future, we are already robbing ourselves of the joy of possibilities.

Living in the present moment is the only thing that is real. It is happening now. We are in it. When we take time to be fully present with others, we strengthen our relationships. When we take time to fully appreciate the gift of living, we live in gratitude and our outlook on our lives changes. Even when we can be fully present to the painful moments, we experience what it means to be alive and we learn to appreciate the moments of beauty and joy.

Why is mindfulness important for reducing stress?

Research has shown that mindfulness can help reduce stress by decreasing anxiety and depression, and improving mood and sleep. By becoming more aware of our thoughts and emotions, we can learn to regulate our reactions to stress, allowing us to respond to challenges in a more productive and effective way.

There are many simple ways I incorporate mindfulness into my daily routine. Like you, I often don’t have the time to devote 45 minutes each day to meditating. I have found that getting up a little earlier in the morning allows me to spend sometime in silence, creating a practice of starting my day in calm. However, I realize that for many, this is not possible.

Throughout my day, I do try to add in moments of mindfulness, to remind myself to be fully present.

How to incorporate mindfulness into our daily routine:

  1. Start with a simple meditation: Take a few minutes each day to practice a simple mindfulness meditation. One simple and effective meditation is a breathing meditation:
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
  • Pay attention to the sensation of breathing in and breathing out.
  • If your mind starts to wander, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
  • Repeat this meditation for 3-5 minutes several times each day.
  1. Take regular breaks: Make time for breaks throughout the day to recharge and refresh your mind. This can involve simple activities such as taking a walk, practicing deep breathing, or engaging in a relaxing hobby. For me, I often will take a break just to walk around my school or, if the weather is pleasant, to take a walk outside. Otherwise, I may go and have a conversation with a colleague. This one can be challenging, though, because in times of high stress, those conversations can quickly turn negative (on my end, not on theirs) and then I am not really recharging, just venting. Getting out of my office isn’t always easy, and I can find all sorts of excuses as to why I can’t add this break into my day, but when I do, it always results in my being more productive and less “in my head.”
  2. Practice gratitude: Take time each day to reflect on the things you are grateful for. This can help to shift your focus from stress and negative thoughts to positive experiences and emotions. There is no other single practice that I have found as beneficial as practicing gratitude. When we can see and feel and remember all we are grateful for, it helps us to find ways through the things we are worried about.
  3. Cultivate self-compassion: Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. When faced with stress or challenges, remind yourself that it is okay to make mistakes, and that everyone experiences stress and difficulty from time to time.

Mindfulness is a simple and effective way to reduce stress and increase resilience as a leader, a teacher, a parent or anyone who finds themselves in stressful day-to-day situations. By incorporating mindfulness into our daily routine, we can become more self-aware, calm, and focused, allowing us to better handle the demands of our roles and lead with greater effectiveness and well-being.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some more specifics of my mindfulness practice and how it is helping me move through this difficult season. I hope you find it helpful too.


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