How to Balance Responsibility and Doing Nothing

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,

Adriana


 
(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 adriana@adrianajoynertherapy.com.

 

Coloring: A surprising way to get into "flow"

Adult coloring books.  I know you’ve seen them. You probably even have one yourself.

Well, I have to admit, I’ve been sucked into adult coloring myself, and with some surprising results. Over the past few weeks I have really enjoyed the slow, focused attention it takes to color in one picture. I love taking my time to color one page, shading and blending colors together. Shade green here. Add yellow there. Bits of blue and purple on the edge.

This has been the first time in years that I have spent hours creating art. In the past I used to paint, quilt, and throw pottery, among other creative things. As life progressed and obligations increased I devoted less and less time to being creative.

Coloring is opening the door for me to get reacquainted with the beauty and joy that comes with being in a flow while creating art.

Have you experienced that flow? That being in “the zone” when doing something creative, challenging and enjoyable?  The kind of enjoyment in an activity where you look up at the clock and hours have flown by. You didn’t notice what was going on around you; you were in tuned and focused on the activity. You feel energized and excited, blissful.

Psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly first defined and studied the concept of flow experience. In his work he noted that some artistic individuals (composers, authors, artists) would describe a state where they were no longer connected with themselves (a loss of self-consciousness) and could fully and would get lost completely investing in a creative, challenging activity. In this amazing TED Talk Dr. Csikszentmihaly describes several factors that exemplify a flow state:

 1. Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.

2. A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.

3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well we are doing.

4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task.

5. A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.

6. Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes.

7. Intrinsic Motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

To experience a flow state Dr. Csikszentmihaly notes that there must be a balance between skill level and challenge level. For example, an adult putting together a kid’s jigsaw puzzle (high skill, low challenge) or a beginner painter attempting to paint a family portrait at sunset (low skill, high challenge) will not likely create a flow experience. It may lead to boredom or anxiety. 

Finding a balance between skill and challenge (high skill/high challenge) will create flow.

What opportunities do you have for flow experiences in your life right now?

Flow can come in many forms. Be open to whenever and wherever you experience it.

Drawing, painting, collage, crafting, scrapbooking

Writing music, playing music, playing an instrument

Writing short stories, poems, a novel

Gardening, preparing planters for spring or putting bulbs in earth

Stacking rock cairns while on a hike

Photographing nature or your family

Dancing, choreography

Yoga, running, rock climbing, skiing

As you continue to define your intentions for this New Year, what changes or additions can you make in your life to create more flow experiences (a sense of ecstasy, inner clarity, a sense of serenity and the experience of timelessness)?

Share this post with someone you know that might be interested in bring more flow to their life. Let me know if you want to talk about flow activity ideas - I'm here to help! 

 

 

Adriana Joyner, LMFT is a Sacramento Area therapist specializing in counseling for people healing from trauma and abuse, and gender support for those within 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 adrianajoynermft@gmail.com.

How to Focus your Energy - Finding Mindfulness in Nature

It’s easy to get distracted and disconnected this time of year.

You have multiple lists of things to-do, gifts to pick up, and errands to run.  Your normal routine is still in place but you have 50 extra things to add on to your already busy schedule.

Your anxiety is high trying to manage everything; it’s like juggling five balls at once. You are trying to make sure your family is cared for and has the best holiday and New Year possible.

You are often in last place on your to-do list. Self-care feels like something from your distant past.

Now is not the time to add on a complex self-care routine that will feel more like a chore. But something needs to change to help you feel more present, manage your mood and actually relax enough to enjoy this time of year!

 

Let’s try a simple and easy way to improve your mood!

A huge part of regulating your emotions (from anxiety to anger to sadness) comes from your five senses (touch, smell, sight, sound, taste).  

Soothing your senses will help you shift your mood away from uncomfortable or ineffective emotions to a mood that will help you manage your stress and extra responsibilities this time of year.

 

When you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or unhappy find ways to soothe your senses:

  • Sight: Surround yourself with images and items that are appealing, attractive and comforting. It can be something small, like looking at photos in your phone, or hanging up a picture of your favorite vacation destination at work.

  • Smell: Identifying smells that bring positive memories and emotions – maybe the smell of baked goods, pine branches, or certain flowers. Keep those items around (or have a Scentsy air freshener going) to keep the smells enjoyable.

  • Touch: Now’s the time to put on your favorite sweater or scarf and feel it cozy on your skin.

  • Taste: Splurge on a tasty treat that you enjoy – perhaps a piece of dark chocolate, go out to your favorite meal for lunch, or grab a fancy coffee drink. 

  • Sound: Putting on your favorite music can snap you into a positive mood. Find something soothing and enjoyable.

 

If you want to take it to the next level, try soothing your senses while connecting with nature.  

Here is a fun article about helping children connect with nature. While this article focuses on kids, I think it’s just as applicable for adults to use too! Let’s try the Five Senses Wildlife Hunt.

 

We are lucky to live in the Sacramento Area which has amazing and vibrant seasons, and yet is still moderate enough that you can head out doors for a stroll in winter. One of my favorite places is the Effie Yeaw Nature Center.  This tiny gem is easily accessible from Gold River, Fair Oaks and Carmichael, has a three-mile dirt trail following the river, and is home to an abundance of wildlife. It’s hard to walk the trail without seeing deer, turkey, coyote and woodpeckers.

 

So here’s your mood-improving challenge:

Go on a five-minute outdoor walk today.

 

Easy right? Focus on your five senses for five minutes:

  • Feel the air, wind, or rain on your skin

  • Hold a leaf and feel the different textures

  • Notice the smells around you; fill your lungs with fresh air

  • Watch all the movement in everything around you, small and large

  • Observe the trees bowing in the wind

  • Watch beetles running under a rock

  • Pay attention to the squirrels searching for nuts for winter

  • Notice the multitude of colors in the trees

  • Watch the changing colors in the sky and the movements of the clouds

  • Feel the texture of bark on the trees

  • And if you’re really daring, taste a raindrop on your tongue!

Connect  with being fully and authentically present in the moment.

 

I’d love to hear how you connect with nature or about your mindfulness practice. Share with me in the comments or send me an email at adrianajoynermft@gmail.com.

 

Adriana Joyner, LMFT is a Sacramento Area therapist who provides counseling to people healing from trauma and abuse, and those within 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 adrianajoynermft@gmail.com.