A Month of Mindfulness is a 30-day program Aetna created to help people experience how mindfulness reduces stress and boosts health.
During the last 30 days, I’ve learned a few mindfulness tools like breathing exercises and mental body scans that I can call on whenever I feel stressed out or anxious. But my path to mindfulness also made me aware of just how many negative cues are out there, scattering our focus and making us feel like we need to be busy 24/7.
For many career women, there’s the celebrated grind mentality, the one that encourages spending every waking moment working on your passion. If you’re not working this hard, the logic goes, you’re not achieving anything worthwhile and only have yourself to blame for your inability to reach stratospheric success. It’s so prevalent, it’s become a meme, dotting all of our social media accounts in varying font-heavy images and slogans.
If I’ve learned anything from the Aetna mindfulness challenge, it’s that it’s important to take a break. But taking a break that leaves you better off than when you started. It’s an important distinction I learned when following the last tip:
TIP #4: NOTICE THE WORLD AROUND YOU
For 15 minutes, take off your earphones. Put your phone in your pocket. Ignore your texts—and notice the world around you. You’ll give yourself room to take in all the sights, sounds, and sensations you’ve been missing out on—and you’ll be living consciously.
Taking a break is a necessary part of living intentionally and taking care of our mental health. We live in an age of working lunches and on-call vacations; we need to reclaim our time to do the very important task of re-centering ourselves. Most of the time, I’ve done one of two equally unhealthy things:
- Follow the grind-so-hard ethos until I fall into bed at 1 or 2 p.m and force myself up at 6:00 a.m (a habit I’m in the process of breaking).
- Stop working to “take a quick break,” which would then turn into me wasting an hour or two of my workday because I would start cleaning or cooking or reading or watching “just one more” show on Netflix.
I wasn’t being intentional, I was being tired—and it showed in how fast my anxiety would spiral out of my control.
What I like about this mindfulness tip is that it makes a distinction between my “quick breaks” and a restorative break. A restorative break allows you to center yourself and really step away from the many things vying for our attention, so you can return to your work refreshed and ready to start again. The breaks I’ve been used to taking left me feeling more anxious than when I started.
So this time, when I felt anxiety about a deadline creeping up, I closed my laptop, put my coat and sneakers on, and headed out the door for a 15-minute stroll around the waterfront walking path near my apartment. I felt the cool air hit my face and focused on my breathing with each step. I acknowledged and pushed away the desire to Instagram the very beautiful skyline or listen to one of my podcasts I’ve fallen behind on. While my mind wasn’t totally cleared, I was able to enjoy the world around me.
When I returned to my desk, I felt refreshed and relaxed. I opened my laptop, and started working.
This post was sponsored by Aetna, who believes health is about the body and the mind. Stress can affect emotional and physical health, and reducing stress can boost wellbeing. As part of their #Mindful30 challenge, the views and opinions expressed in my posts on the topic of mindfulness are my own, not Aetna’s. To learn more about mindfulness, visit aetnamindfulness.com.