By Robert Israel, M.D., F.A.C.P.
Finally, after a very long and unusual time during which most of us have been under a lot more stress than usual – we are beginning to emerge into some new normal.
Recently, I was lucky enough to go out walking in a busy downtown area with a large number of unmasked people in great weather. Almost everyone was enjoying the simple pleasure of seeing other smiles and soaking in the gorgeous urban environment.
Then, the spell was broken when a driver followed the rules and stopped on a yellow light. The driver behind him went ballistic and was visibly screaming obscenities and hitting his steering wheel. Several strangers witnessed this as well – and I believe the collective emotion was a sense of pity for the poor guy who was missing the wonderful moment to his stress.
Imagine instead how much better his day might have been had he taken a moment to see the beauty of the day. The birds singing, the breeze, fine temperature and the overarching happiness in the crowd.
Mindfulness is defined as the purposeful awareness of the present moment, non-judgmentally. This gentleman was in some other moment presumably wherever he was rushing to be and miss this moment entirely.
Research has shown the adverse effects of mindlessness and the benefits of mindfulness, particularly a mindful meditation practice. From reduced stress, to lower blood pressure, to improved immune function and reduced risk of hospitalization.
Taking time to practice mindfulness not only has an impact on you, it has potential to impact those around you as well and set the tone for the remainder of your day. For example, a lot of service industry jobs remain unfilled and thus sometimes we experience longer wait times than we were accustomed to 18 months ago. We can let this irritate us and add to our stress or we can take a different approach and use the time to decompress and relax.
How about practicing a moment of mindfulness during these moments? Take a deep breath and enjoy the freedom of breathing. Think how wonderful it is to be able to wait without fear of COVID-19. Take a moment of thankfulness for the service industry workers whose work helped bring us through the pandemic. Enjoy your breath in and out.
And when it is your turn, smile and say something kind to the person helping you. Be kind to yourself too, you have just made the world a bit nicer and deserve your own thanks. Amazing how different that feels than exasperation and anxiety!