You know that feeling you get when you come back from a vacation and it’s a challenge to get back into “real life” mode? Where the thought “I need a vacation from my vacation” crosses your mind?
The end of summer and start of the new school year is like that for me. Summer’s lazy days, minimal routines, and being able to procrastinate responsibility is coming to an end. Soon it will be back to the hustle and bustle of structure, routines, obligations and a seemingly endless to-do list.
What makes today even harder for me is that the weather has finally cooled a bit from the nearly unbearable heat of the last few weeks, the sky is blue without a cloud in sight, the world outside is screaming “come and play!”
In reality, I’d much rather be lying in a hammock staring up at the filtered blue sky through the leaves in the trees, drinking iced tea and reading a novel. My mind is fighting me on responsibilities today like a toddler throwing a tantrum.
The struggle is real!
It seems like just yesterday I was cutting back for the summer to relax, unwind, and be more present in the moment. How could that have been two months ago? How could two months fly by so fast?
The reality is that as much as I’d like to live my life full-time in “doing nothing” mode, I’m not independently wealthy. I must work. I have responsibilities that aren't going to get done on their own. And alas I don’t have a personal assistant. I’m guessing you’re in the same boat too, so until we win the lottery or receive a windfall inheritance from a long-lost relative, we’re going to have to create more balance in life.
We need to find that sweet-spot between checking off our tasks and indulging in leisure.
Easier said than done, right? With a few tricks it doesn't have to be.
Finding balance starts with an increased awareness and paying attention to where you’re investing your energy.
Yes, my friends, I’m talking about mindfulness.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. My go-to mindfulness activity lately has been a sensory check in.
Here’s a brief how-to:
- Take in a slow deep breath. Feel the air slowly moving through your sinuses, down your throat and into your lungs, recognize the pressure in your chest cavity as your lungs fill. As you exhale notice your shoulders relaxing, tension releasing as the air leaves your body.
- Start slowly looking around you, taking in what you see. Try not to put much (or any) thought into this. Simply observe and describe literally what you see. Notice the shapes, colors, textures. Get curious about details without getting hung up in the reasons. Notice how light reflects on objects, subtle movements, or the uniqueness of an item.
- What do you hear? Attune to the range of sounds around you, from soft to loud, pleasant to unpleasant.
- Do you taste anything? What are the textures you feel under your feet, where you're sitting? How do your clothes feel against you on your skin? What smells are lingering in the air around you?
When you are focused with a heightened curiosity to the sensory input you’re experiencing, it’s hard to be in the past or future. It’s hard to be anywhere in the moment.
With increased awareness you can more clearly assess how you are investing your energy.
Are you spending too much time slaving away at obligations and feeling some building resentment around not having down-time? Or have you been letting your responsibilities pile up until it feels so overwhelming you don’t even want to start? Having been in both situations at one time or another, I can tell you neither feels good.
Using mindfulness can help you find balance in your life.
The process of connecting with your body and attending to the moment will let you make a better choices for yourself. It can help you determine more clearly how you want to shift around and use your energy.
Say you are sitting at your desk at work, easily distracted, your mind bouncing all over the place. You know that you have a project to work on and several calls to make, but you find yourself distracted by random web pages, workplace chit-chat, and odds and ends that don't really need to be done today. Running through a sensory scan can help you settle yourself and get started on the highest priority task. Or maybe you realize you’re feeling physically tired and need to go for a walk or grab a coffee to help you finish up your day.
Finding balance starts with awareness.
Creating and maintaining balance in your life (between the to-do’s and the do-nothing’s) can take some adjustment. Even when things feel aligned and smooth there still may be some fine-tuning to keep things well in balance. So get practicing mindfulness, and let me know how it’s working for you!
And until that day comes when the only things on our responsibility list are do-nothing's, we can keep playing the lottery to afford that personal assistant!
Until next time,
(PS if you’re interested in reading more about sensory mindfulness activities, check out this post about nature mindfulness.)
Adriana Joyner, LMFT, is a Sacramento Area therapist specializing in counseling for people healing from painful life experiences and traumas, support for individuals exploring their gender identity and expression, and the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.