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How to stay mindful as the summer winds down

Summertime and the livin’ is easy….

A mindful approach to enjoying the end of summer and readying for Fall.

Posted by Andrea Masterman, PhD

While the carefree weeks of August continue to provide feelings of joy and renewal, it is becoming more difficult to deny the fact that the Fall will soon be upon us.

Whether this next season will merely bring a change in the weather, or a major family milestone like a child heading off to kindergarten or your youngest leaving for college, the practice of mindfulness can brighten your experience of summer and honor your worries about the future without being overwhelmed by them.

We can use the remaining weeks of summer to practice mindfulness and begin to gain the sense of inner strength and calm that it produces. Much like an athlete who lifts weights to build muscles for the competitions ahead, establishing neural pathways in the brain through mindfulness practice, will benefit us when facing stressful times in the future. 

Mindfulness, as described by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. During mindful meditation, we practice paying attention to the present moment by focusing on our breath. We notice, without judgement, when we have become distracted internally by our thoughts or feelings, or externally by noises or other sensory distractions. With consistent practice, we can become skilled at refocusing our attention to the present. Research has consistently shown that once we are able to cultivate this state and live mindfully, we will experience reduced stress, increased fulfillment and self-awareness. Taking time out each day, for even a few moments, to direct your attention to whatever you are doing that moment, will reshape your brain.

Summer would seem to be a perfect time to be mindful and nurture oneself. However, many people find it difficult to relax and enjoy this change in routine. Women in particular, have a long-standing identification as self-sacrificing caretakers. After months of focusing on the needs of others around them, it can be difficult to shift toward a focus on self-care. Here are some suggestions that might facilitate your feelings of rejuvenation.

FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE-

Our brains naturally scan for negative experiences. Even when most of our experiences are positive, the brain will register and store the negative. We must therefore consciously notice positive experiences and work to internalize them.

  1. Each day, actively look for positive experiences. Whether it is the smell of a ripe piece of fruit, the sound of ocean waves, or the sight of a puppy walking by, take in the experience.

  2. Spend time focusing on the experience. Pay attention to how it makes you feel. Use all five senses to intensify this experience.

  3. Feel the experience soaking into your heart and mind. Allow your body to relax and absorb the event through your senses, emotions and thoughts.

TURN OFF DISTRACTIONS-

Our interconnected world has made it extremely difficult to stay in the present. While on vacation, or spending family time at home, it is important to resist the temptation to engage in the digital communication. Set rules for when you can use technology. Set up a plan and stick to it. Limit the frequency of checking your devices, as well as the amount of time you can spend on them.

APPROACH EACH DAY WITH A BEGINNER’S MIND-

Summer provides many opportunities for pure creativity and “play”. If everyday life has made these pursuits last on your priority list, then this is the chance to reclaim the joys of childhood and find moments of wonder. Make a list of activities that would bring you joy. They could be active like dancing, creative like gardening or restorative like a bubble bath. Finding time to engage in such “play”, can transform your priorities in the future, as you are reminded of the joys of uninhibited fun.

Transitions involve letting go of old patterns and developing new identities. In his classic book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges explains that in order to successfully make a transition, we need to take a “fertile time-out” to explore our thoughts and feelings. We need to slow down, breathe, and pay attention.

As summer comes to a close, it is important to fight the urge to rush back to old routines and roles. Even though there are many more demands and expectations, taking time to attend to the present moment will help you maintain a sense of control and calm.